Cubans abuzz about Castro in Tampa cafes

Everyone shared their varying opinions on what Castro's ailing health means for their friends and relatives on the island.

Published August 1, 2006

TAMPA — The cafes and restaurants of West Tampa were abuzz Tuesday morning with talk of Fidel Castro’s illness and announced surgery, but the reaction was more muted than that of Miami, where Cuban exiles gathered in the streets Monday night.

"Some say he’s already dead,’’ one woman yelled out on a stool at the La Ideal diner on Tampa Bay Boulevard.

Outside, a cluster of a dozen older Cuban men gathered for their morning talk, some showing up at their normal hour of 5 a.m.

But this morning, they gathered excitedly to talk about the latest on Castro.

Many of the men – former Cuban exiles, former political prisoners, or economic refugees from the island – smoked cigars and passed around little plastic cups of Cuban coffee as they tried to figure out what it all meant.

Some men thought the end of Castro’s reign and life under the rule of his brother, Raul Castro, would be better for Cubans on the island. They think Raul is more diplomatic and open for change.

Others disagreed and thought life was about to get worse for their relatives back in Cuba.

"Everybody has a different opinion,’’ said Lazaro Lopez, 65, a retired Hillsborough school custodian who came to the United States from Cuba 25 years ago. He still has two brothers and a sister in Cuba.

He said whatever happens, the young people in Cuba need to be the ones to determine the future of the country – not Cuban exiles in Florida.

"They are the ones living there,’’ he said.

Inside the diner, Ray Perez, 34, ate breakfast of eggs and Cuban bread with his wife, Milene Velazquez, also 34. He came to the United States at age 14. He said he was not getting worked up about the news about Castro’s health.

"For things to change, the system has to die, not Fidel,’’ he said.