Cubans in Miami Await News on Castro

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The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 1, 2006; 2:26 AM

MIAMI -- The streets of the city's Little Havana neighborhood erupted in celebration as word spread that Cuban President Fidel Castro had temporarily relinquished power, with hundreds of people waving flags and many talking hopefully of returning to their home country for the first time in years or decades.

People waved Cuban flags on Little Havana's Calle Ocho, shouting "Cuba, Cuba, Cuba," hoping that the end was near for the man most of them consider a ruthless dictator. Lighting cigars, banging pots, cheering and dancing, they recalled their own flights from the communist island or those of their parents and grandparents. Tens of thousands of Cuban exiles and their descendants live in South Florida.

In Hialeah, a heavily Cuban-American city northwest of Miami, 34-year-old Orlando Pino steered his bicycle with one hand and waved a Cuban flag with the other. He said he wants to return to Cuba when Castro dies.

"There's a lot of people in Cuba who are home crying," said Pino, who arrived in the Miami area two years on a religious visa. "There's a lot of confusion over there because many people loved him.

"It's all a process for the Cuban people to wake up from their sleep. It's a lot of time under one person and they have become accustomed to that, good or bad."

Castro said in a statement read on Cuban television that he had suffered intestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from recent public appearances in Argentina and Cuba.

Castro said that extreme stress "had provoked in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure."

Castro also requested the celebration of his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2, the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

"We long for the day when power transfers in Cuba are the results of a free, democratic process and reflect the wishes of the Cuban people, not the preordained wishes of a dictator" said Joanna Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Raices de Esperanza, or Roots of Hope. "Although this transfer of power is being characterized as temporary, the oppression under which the Cuban people live is enduring and continues."

U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican, added: "This is a clear reminder that the end of the Castro regime is approaching, and that the only solution is free elections and the rule of law."

Many on the street thought Castro was already dead, including Isabel Aguero Kling, 34. "They are preparing to tell the people slowly," she said.

She came to Calle Ocho and said her late grandmother was imprisoned in Cuba for 15 years.

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© 2006 The Associated Press

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