Commentary: Que viva Cuba libre

Member of the Guerra family on the family farm in Holguin, Cuba.

Member of the Guerra family on the family farm in Holguin, Cuba.

Today we celebrate the end of tyranny, of oppression of an absolute ruler that caused so much harm to the very people he claimed to want to help. 

I was born in Holguin, Cuba in March 1959 (Castro came into power on January 1, 1959), so I've only known one side of this ruler my entire life. I've been blessed and we escaped in 1965 on one of the first Viaje de Libertad (freedom flights). 

I remember as a little boy in Cuba hiding in the closet in terror of being found as the military drove by during home- schooling by our non-communist neighbor. I remember the fear and yet jubilation of my parents as we were processed at the Cuban Refugee Center – today known as The Freedom Tower in Miami. We were welcomed by this amazing country that has allowed me to breathe free air to this day.

I understand to a lesser degree the suffering by millions of people at the hands of this dictatorship. I am one of the lucky ones who were able to come to a great country like America that welcomed us and gave us the opportunity to pursue happiness and self-worth. I am very proud to be an American-Cuban.

While I cannot proclaim happiness at somebody's death, today I feel a sense of relief. Yes, of joy for those who are suffering to this day in a homeland and culture I represent by my roots. His legacy is well documented, of starving his countrymen both literally, economically and without human rights. He will be remembered for staying in power for 57 years to the iron fist suppression of communism and a dictatorship.

My parents escaped Cuba in 1965, seeking a life of freedom in the United States. Here is a copy of my passport.

My parents escaped Cuba in 1965, seeking a life of freedom in the United States. Here is a copy of my passport.

So no, I'm not happy about death. But I do breathe a little freer today for so many people. I rejoice for the Cuban people there. I cry for the many lives that he shattered, destroyed and killed. Today represents a new beginning, a new vision, a new future without the burdens of the past.

I think of my mom and dad and their struggles to start over and bring our family here to escape this man and what he represented. I wish they were alive to see this. I wonder what their thoughts would be at this day finally arriving.

What faces Cuba now is a political mix of a grand opportunity combined with political uncertainty. Progress towards humanitarian policies and treatment of the Cuban people at the hands of their own government is a noble and worthy goal that hopefully can continue in dialogue with the United States.

And lastly, I count my blessings for this great country and what it represents, for welcoming my family, for my amazing life of opportunities. I also smile knowing that today, we have Cuba and the Cuban people in our thoughts and hearts. Que viva Cuba libre!

I reminiscence of an old Cuban proverb: “When the sun rises, it rises for everyone.”

Mario A. Guerra is the former mayor of Downey, past president of Independent Cities Association and current treasurer of the California Republican Party. He is a Cuban refugee that came to the United States at the age of 6, aboard one of the first Viaje de Libertad. He can be reached at www.marioaguerra.com