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Fidel Castro’s Death: What It Means for the Church, Cuba

Reaction ranges from sorrow to celebration at the news of Cuba’s former President  Fidel Castro’s death at age 90.

His brother Raul, who now leads the island nation, said he died at 10:29 pm on Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Toward victory, always!”

Castro had been suffering from intestinal problems and other serious health issues since 2006 and handed over the dictatorship to Raul in 2008.

Castro led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba in the late 1950’s, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half-century rule.

Miami’s Little Havana heralded the news with shouts of victory. The small community located in Miami-Dade County was celebrating not grieving the death of the communist leader.

For the thousands that fled the dictator’s leadership, his death symbolizes the end of a far-reaching communist regime.

“Cuba si! Castro no!,” they chanted, while others screamed “Cuba libre!”

“We’re all celebrating, this is like a carnival,” said 72-year-old Jay Fernandez, who came to Miami when he was 18 in 1961.

There were no reports of violence or any arrests during the demonstrations.

Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Fallat said Saturday there were no plans to activate the emergency operations center – another sign of the more subdued reaction to Castro’s death than might have previously been expected.

“They are celebrating but in a very peaceful way,” Fallat said of the demonstrators.

Miami-Dade mayor Carlos A. Gimenez writes that he hopes for a “free and democratic Cuba,” The Guardian reports.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama made a statement on Castro’s death and extended a hand of friendship with Cuba, which he visited earlier last year in an effort to thaw out U.S-Cuba relations.

“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans – in Cuba and in the United States – with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation,” he said. “History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure in the people and world around him.”

US president-elect, Donald Trump also issued a statement, “Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.”

“While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve,” Trump said.

He added that his administration would help in giving Cubans freedom and prosperity.

Senator Marco Rubio, who is Cuban-American, said that history will remember Castro as an “evil, murderous dictator.”

“Fidel Castro seized power promising to bring freedom and prosperity to Cuba but his communist regime turned it into an impoverished island prison,” Rubio said in a statement.

“Over six decades, millions of Cubans were forced to flee their own country, and those accused of opposing the regime were routinely jailed and even killed,” he added.

Pope Francis, who met with Castro in September 2015, expressed sorrow over the leader’s death in a telegram to his brother, Raul.

“Upon receiving the sad news of the death of your dear brother, His Excellency Mister Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, former president of the State Council and of the Government of the Republic of Cuba, I express my sentiments of sorrow to Your Excellency and other family members of the deceased dignitary, as well as to the people of this beloved nation,” his telegram read.

The leader’s death could indicate a significant change for the Cuban church, who in the last year has seen significant persecution from the communist regime.

According to a Christian Solidarity Worldwide report in August, the Cuban government has launched a major crackdown against churches and has seized and demolished at least 1,400 church buildings. The government claims the churches are unregistered, and therefore, illegal.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said Castro’s death provides a new opportunity for the Cuban Church.

“The passing of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro provides an opportunity for freedom and democracy to emerge in an island nation held captive by totalitarianism,” he said. “Let us pray and advocate for the current leadership to embrace liberty and respect the God given rights of all Cubans. Que viva Cuba, fuerte y libre!”

When the U.S. announced efforts to renew a diplomatic relationship with Cuba, Dr. Theo Babun, executive director of the faith-based organization Echo Cuba, told CBN News that he hope it would bring lasting change for the church.

“One of the prayers and one of the aims of the church in Cuba, is to encourage the Cuban government to open the doors to religious freedom,” Babun said.

Babun said that pastors in Cuba are aiming to go after four specific areas.

  • Close the Office of Religious affairs, which polices and controls all aspects of religion in Cuba.
  • Remove the rule that prohibits the registration of new associations of churches, particularly the rule that prohibits the registration of new denominations in Cuba.
  • Remove the rule that provides the Cuban Council of Churches, a government organization, the sole power of distributing Bibles and other religious materials.
  • Enact a law that would protect the rights of religious institutions to worship without interference from the government.

Although it is uncertain what remains in store for the Church, for many Cubans, Castro’s death means a renewed hope that real change is on the horizon.



 

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