ATLANTA, Ga -- Eduardo James Benedit has never been to Cuba. His parents and grandparents emigrated to America in 1962, and Benedit was born in the United States.
“My family always told me, ‘We’re Americans first and Cubans second.’ The United States has been good to us,” says Benedit, who grew up in the family business, the Havana Restaurant in Brookhaven.
Now, with Friday’s death of Fidel Castro, Benedit says the last remaining obstacle to Cuba’s isolation from the rest of the world is gone.
“Castro himself was an impediment to progress,” says Benedit. “I’m excited for the Cuban people, because maybe now the embargoes against Cuba will be lifted.”
Castro, the Cuban dictator who helped bring the world to the brink of nuclear war, tormented 10 American presidents and exerted almost total control over the last remaining communist government in the Western Hemisphere, died at the age of 90.
His death was reported by the Associated Press, citing state media in Cuba.
Thousands of people celebrated in the streets of Miami Friday night, a city that is home to one of the nation’s largest Cuban immigrant populations. But Angelo Fuster, whose parents sent him to America as a child in the 1960s, doesn’t believe much will change in Cuba until Raul Castro dies or leaves office.
“I don’t sympathize with people who are celebrating someone’s death,” said Fuster, who once worked as press secretary for former Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson. “Fidel Castro’s death is mostly symbolic; his brother has been in power for several years, as Fidel’s health declined.
“Things will change once Raul is out of office.”
Fidel Castro officially stepped down on Feb. 19, 2008. On Dec. 17, 2014, President Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced the beginning of normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States.
Raul Castro has already announced he will step down as Cuban president in 2018.
"Fidel Castro was a dictator in every horrible sense of the word," said U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-Atlanta), in a statement. "His passing is an opportunity to turn the page on more than a half-century of repression of the Cuban people. But that will only occur if nations that support freedom of thought and expression stand united against tyranny; instead of attempting to appease and accommodate the Castro regime."
Fuster, who has returned to Cuba many times, was born in Cuba but sent to Miami to live with a Methodist family in the 1960s, with the idea that he’d only be away for a year, at the most. That was more than 50 years ago.
“That’s what made it possible for so many children to come to America and be separated from their families, that it would only be for a short time,” Fuster said. “My father was a Methodist minister, and he felt his place was to remain in Cuba.
“The U.S. embargo has been hurting Cuba for many years; the country’s main source of revenue used to be sugar, but now it’s tourism. And there has been some new foreign investment coming into the country, including a little from the United States.”
Benedit’s family opened their original eatery on Buford Highway in 1976. Several years ago, the shop burned down, but has since been restored and reopened. The family also opened a second location, also in Brookhaven, and not far from their original spot.
Benedit has always wanted to travel to Cuba and see where his father and grandparents, now dead, grew up. Now, maybe that’s possible, he says.
“It will be easier to travel to Cuba in the future, and all of this will bring even more attention to the Cuban culture and its people.”