As it did during the long and sprawling life of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, the world had a divided reaction to his death, hailing him as a liberator and cursing him as a dictator.
In Miami, the island’s exiles and their children and grandchildren took to the streets, banging pots and pans, waving American and Cuban flags, and celebrating in Spanish, “He’s dead! He’s dead!”
In the early morning hours on Saturday in Havana, the streets remained quiet not long after Castro’s brother and successor, Raúl, announced that the former dictator had died at 10:29 pm EST on Friday. He did not give a cause of death.
Fidel Castro will be cremated later Saturday, with a state funeral to follow on December 4, Cuban state media reported.
The popular Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote on Twitter, “the silence deepens, it is dawn, but fear is palpable in the air. Complicated days are coming…”
“He is not here, he’s gone, we have survived Fidel Castro.”
Cuban state TV began airing marathon documentaries about Castro’s life and times. He defied the will of 10 U.S. presidents before President Obama held out an olive branch this year that included a visit to Cuba and a resumption of travel from the United States. American tourists are now pouring in; there are direct flights from Miami.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., whose political career in South Florida has been built upon her opposition to the Castro regime, was tweeting in the early morning in English and Spanish.
“After so many decades of oppression the tyrant Castro is dead and a new beginning can finally dawn on Cuba and its people,” she wrote.
But across Latin America, leaders spoke mostly kind words. Some stirred with revolutionary passion; others employed more diplomatic language. All acknowledged the iconic role of the Castro in the region’s history.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto hailed Castro as “a friend of Mexico, a promoter of a bilateral relation based on respect, dialogue and solidarity.”
The president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, said that 60 years after Castro and small band of fighters set sail aboard a fishing yacht called “Granma,” from Mexico to Cuba, to launch the revolution, “Fidel has joined the immortals.”
Maduro — whose own revolution has sputtered since the death of predecessor and Castro ally Hugo Chavez and the onset of hard economic times — said Castro’s death should inspire “all us revolutionaries to honor his legacy.”
“Hasta victoria siempre!” he typed, employing the popular slogan “ever onward, to victory!”
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa tweeted, “A great man has left us. Viva Cuba! Viva Latin America!”
Cuban-American baseball slugger Jose Canseco reminded his fans that he was an exile. “Can’t say I feel anything for his death,” Canseco wrote. “There is a reason many defected to USA.”
Miami Herald columnist and longtime Castro watcher Andres Oppenheimer, who wrote “Castro’s Final Hour” in 1993, wondered whether history will absolve Castro or vilify him.
Social media users debated Castro’s legacy. Some focused on the inspiration he gave oppressed people in Latin America and praised Cuba’s health care and universal literacy. Others condemned Cuba’s lack of freedom and democracy, and its moribund economy.
In Brazil, newspapers recalled that the Brazilian government was quick to recognize the new Cuban regime in 1959, just months after Castro came to power. In recognition, Castro visited the new capital of Brasilia that President Juscelino Kubitschek was building. But after Brazilian generals established a military dictatorship in 1964, Castro didn’t return for decades.
As news of his death spread Saturday, Brazilian leftists lamented his passing and shared a YouTube video of a typically long speech Castro had made at a Rio university in 1999. But others recalled Castro’s human rights abuses and hoped his death would not feed into Brazil’s polarized political environment.
“A dictator who sent gays, gypsies and political opponents in general to be killed behind walls or left to rot in Military Units to Aid Production without any right to defense,” Sao Paulo filmmaker Bruno Jorge wrote on Facebook. “I believe this is important information for anyone stuck between lucidity and the need to be accepted by an ideological group.”
Other politicians in Brazil reacted according to script.
Franklin Martins, a communications minister in the government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, fought in the armed resistance to Brazil’s dictatorship. Martins trained in Cuba after taking part in the kidnapping of Charles Burke Elbrick, in Rio, in 1969. On Saturday, he praised Castro in an interview with the Estado de S.Paulo news site.
“The Cuban Revolution had a symbolic importance,” Martins said. “He showed it was possible to defeat the dictatorships of Latin America, which were always supported by the United States. And Fidel symbolized this idea that it was possible to fight and win.”
Brian Wilson, a former Labour leader in Britain, said one did not need to be an uncritical supporter of Castro to acknowledge he “sent out a message of hope.”
Castro, who struggled for years with a mysterious ailment, prepared his people for his approaching death in April when he addressed the Communist Party of Cuba for the last time.
“I’ll be 90 years old soon,” Castro told his comrades. “Soon I’ll be like all the others.”
In the speech, Castro defended his legacy: “The time will come for all of us, but the ideas of the Cuban Communists will remain as proof on this planet that if they are worked at with fervor and dignity, they can produce the material and cultural goods that human beings need, and we need to fight without a truce to obtain them.”
Other leaders far from Cuba paid homage. South African President Jacob Zuma thanked Castro for his support to overthrow the country’s apartheid regime. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Castro “one of the most iconic personalities of the 20th century” and a “great friend” of India.
Palestinian diplomats posted photographs of Castro with former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Cuban President Raul Castro which read in part, “The name of this distinguished statesman is rightly considered the symbol of an era in modern world history.”
Spain’s foreign ministry expressed its condolences and called Castro “a figure of great historic importance … who marked a great turning point in the destiny of his country and had great influence across the region.”
Anne-Marie O’Connor in Jerusalem and Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.