Cubans in Toronto divided over death of Fidel Castro

Castro, who died yesterday at 90, was everything from a "monster" to the "big man in Cuba," say Cuban expats.

Castro, dead at 90, called everything from a 'monster' to 'big man in Cuba'

Lenia Duartes moved with her husband to Canada back in 2007, but still has family in Cuba. (Oliver Walters/CBC Toronto)

Members of Toronto's Cuban community have mixed reactions to the death of Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president who passed away Friday night at the age of 90.

Lenia Duartes, who moved to Canada in 2007, quickly got on the phone to her mother in Cuba after hearing the news.

"She told me they couldn't play music or party for nine days," said Duartes, who works at Azucar restaurant in Etobicoke.

Julio Fonseca, a Cuban expat and York University language professor, said it was "almost unbelievable" hearing Castro was gone.

Fonseca came to Toronto in 1994, though his family still lives in Havana. He said Castro is leaving a legacy of social justice and equality.

"The poor, the ones without a voice, the marginalized, the oppressed — Fidel for them is hope," he said.

Expat Rolando Portillo on his time in Cuba 0:41

This is a "sad day," echoed Cuban-born musician Pablo Terry, who called Castro the "big man in Cuba."

"He meant everything to my family," said Terry, who moved to Toronto more than two decades ago. 

"All my family are Fidelists. We were born with the Revolution. Most of the things we have, we have to thank Castro … but not everybody had the same feeling."

'Good riddance,' some say

Luis Mario Ochoa, Havana-born guitarist and vocalist, is among those saying "good riddance."

"There are people that, when they pass, we all celebrate their lives regardless of political points of views, just because the amount of love and joy they brought to the entire planet," Ochoa told CBC Toronto in an email.

Castro is far from being one of those, he said, since he "divided his country" and "starved his people while living like an emperor," and bringing conflict to regions around the world.

A polarizing leader

Much of the world is similarly divided over Castro's death, which prompted celebrations among Cuban exiles in Miami and both condemnation and mourning from various global leaders.

Castro was a huge global figure of the last 50 years, and one of the most polarizing, said Janice Stein, professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, on CBC News Network on Saturday.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro gestures during a tour of Paris in 1995. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

"He was a fiery revolutionary, not the ideological leader — that was Che Guevara," she said.

"But he was the executor, the operator. And probably what he will be remembered best for is pushing the United States and then-Soviet Union to the brink of war in 1962 in the Cuban Missile Crisis."

And that's what hits home for Ochoa.

"He brought the planet to the brink of a nuclear holocaust," he said. "I am glad I lived to see the day this monster is finally gone."

With files from Alison Chaisson, CBC News Network