Idea of Castro 'still alive' since death: Grand Rapids woman left Cuba at 4

A West Michigan woman -- a Cuban American -- says Castro's death doesn't change anything.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - It's been two days since former Cuban President Fidel Castro died and many people are experiencing a range of emotions, including Maribel Pagan.

"His death means nothing," Pagan said.

The death of Cuba's long-time leader doesn't exactly change her feelings.

"The person Castro is dead, the idea of Castro is still alive in Cuba, sadly," Pagan said.

She said Castro's legacy will continue to live.

"It's sad because you want the era to be done with and so do the Cuban people, they want to know freedom," Pagan said.

But Pagan got freedom, when she was 4 years old. Through a church sponsorship, Pagan, her mother and her siblings, moved to Grand Rapids in 1966 from Havana.

More: Local Cuban American on Fidel Castro's death: 'I burst into tears' of joy

Although she was young, she remembers what the country was like.

"Life in Cuba is total depravity and you go without, and you go without, and you go without and you keep going without, you don't know what you're missing anymore," Pagan recalls.

Especially when it came down to eating.

"Cuban food is some of the best food in the world but Cuban people in Cuba don't eat it, they can't afford it," Pagan said. "Everything was rationed.

"My mom had just enough vouchers to get rice, you never got meat. She would go to the black market to get Tang. They had Tang on the black market."

More: Assassins repeatedly tried and failed to kill Castro over the decades

Analysis: Castro's death won't end Cuba's communist rule

Pagan's father, Julian Diaz, was one of many people who tried to end Castro's rule.

"He was totally against his views and my dad fought against the government," Pagan said. "That was his dream, to beat the man down -- the old bearded man."

Diaz was unsuccessful and was captured as a political prisoner.

"Castro broke his body in a lot of ways, tried to break his mind and I think he may have succeeded in some ways to break my father," Pagan remembered.

Pagan didn't meet her father until the United States government helped get him released, when she was 15.

"He came off the plane and I was the first one to recognize him, the man I had never met. I was the first one to say, 'Look there's my dad.' Here I was this 15-year-old girl meeting her father for the first time," Pagan said.

Experiences like these are why Pagan is grateful to live in America.

"I could hate or love Trump, I could hate or love Barack Obama but I can say anything I want and I'm not going to jail," Pagan said. "That doesn't happen in Cuba. People are taken out in the middle of the night and shot and killed."

Pagan said that kind of violence will continue to happen in Cuba, despite Castro's death.

"The government that he built is still there and he's taught Cuban children from school to hate Americans, to hate the United States, that we are the evil power," Pagan said. "Just the person Castro died, not his idealism --that's still alive.

"When will that end? Who knows."

There are those mourning Castro's death, some are remembering him as a father figure and friend. Cuba's government declared nine days of national mourning.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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