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Cubans in Miami celebrate the death of Fidel Castro to the cry of 'viva Cuba libre'

It smelled of tobacco, rum and coffee in front of Café Versailles, the emblematic restaurant of the Cuban exile community on Calle 8 in Miami, where hundreds decided to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro early Saturday morning.
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26 Nov 2016 – 09:55 AM EST
Miami celebrates the death of Fidel Castro. Crédito: Univision

It smells of tobacco, rum and coffee on Calle 8, in front of Café Versailles, the emblematic restaurant of the Cuban exile community in Miami, where hundreds have decided to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro early Saturday morning.

People are also banging pots and screaming “qué viva Cuba libre!" (“May Cuba live free”). There are hugs, flags and Caribbean drums.

On Friday night, Cuban President Raul Castro announced on state television that his brother, who led the Revolution on the island, died Friday.

At 2:00 a.m., entire families -- from grandparents to grandchildren -- are celebrating. "Pa'rriba, pa'bajo Fidel pal carajo" (“Up, down, Fidel get out”) and "¡libertad, libertad, libertad!" (“Freedom, freedom, freedom!”), are some of the songs being chanted. People are also playing the emblematic song ‘ Ya viene llegando’ (‘It’s coming’) by Willy Chirino, which has enthused generations of exiles.

The coffee bar and all tables at Versailles are packed. In the street people will not stop shouting: "Raúl, tyrant, go with your brother."

A long wait

Many of those at Versailles woke up in disbelief early Saturday morning. They had celebrated Fidel's death in vain several times. But when the media confirmed the news, they took to the streets.

"For four years I have been waiting to celebrate with this banner. Finally I could put it to use,” says Jay Fernández, who says that he left Havana in the 1960s.

The banner he holds in his hands has been dusted off several times following rumors about the death of the former president. He says, in Spanish and in English: "Satan, Fidel now belongs to you, give him what he deserves, do not let him have peace."

Without remorse, Fernandez says he came to Versailles to celebrate: "I am glad that Fidel is dead."

During the Castro Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left the island in an exodus that has continued over the years. Most of them arrived in South Florida, and tonight they erupted in chants and cacerolazos.

Gabriel Barrera, 36, says it was good news. In just a few hours he has sold more than 120 Cuban flags at $5 each: "The boss had kept them for four years. We had been expecting Fidel's death for a long time."

A new chapter

Abdel Grau, a 45-year-old Cuban, wears a Cuban flag around his neck. But he does not shout, like others, because he believes that Castro's death brings with it many doubts: "I do not know if things are going to change, but a chapter is closed for us Cubans."

His wife, Lucy Grau, American-born to Cuban parents, bemoans that the now deceased Fidel Castro prevented her from being born on the island. She says that she feels happy. "He did so much damage, he killed so many people."

Bian Rodríguez, a Cuban rapper who stayed in Miami after a visit to South Florida during a cultural exchange two years ago, hugs a friend and says: "This will not change things much, but it's something." They take several photographs. "Here we are, this is a step to freedom," they says to each other.

A political prisoner from the Mariel exodus, Hernán Reyes, says he believed he would not live to see this moment: "I could not feel more joy."

At 3:35 in the morning people are still arriving, flags are still waving on Calle 8, the pots are still banging. In the coming hours, many more Cubans will hear the much anticipated news and celebrate the death of the man who forced them into exile and fragmented their families.

Fernando Peinado contributed to this article.