Local Cubans yearn for democratic, entrepreneurial state following death of Castro

Updated 11/26/2016 11:47 PM
  • Luis Cabrera

    Luis Cabrera

  • Ozzie Guillen

    Ozzie Guillen

Luis Cabrera has anticipated the death of Fidel Castro for years. But his death Friday was not the fulfillment of what Cabrera has been waiting for the past 59 years. It's the death of what Castro did to his home country Cabrera wants.

"Castro, and his brother, they both were definitely not good for the Cuban people," Cabrera said. "When they took over, they really did a good job of taking away everything that was familiar to Cubans. The generations that are there now do not really know the real Cuba."

Cabrera fled the country at the age of 12, eventually ending up in Elgin where he worked as a teacher and community leader. When Cabrera's father came to America, it was to escape being murdered.

His father was in the Cuban equivalent of the FBI in the administration of Castro's predecessor, Fulgencio Batista.

"Batista started calling for the police to commit crimes against the people that were backing Fidel," Cabrera said. "So my father quit the force. He became known as a traitor because he did not back Batista's idea. But he was also known by the Fidel side as working for Batista. My father was a dead man on both sides."

In recent months, Cabrera, who has lost all contact with relatives in Cuba, started the visa paperwork to try to visit Cuba for the first time since he left.

"I had a cousin there," Cabrera said. "I honestly don't know if she's passed away or still there."

Over the years, he has thought a lot about the fellow Cubans he left behind.

"We all knew all the struggles they had to buy food, clothing, just basic needs, not being able to travel," Cabrera said. "That's painful. Worst was knowing how the Castros treated people who were against them. Most were executed or imprisoned and didn't have a fair trial for anything."

Cabrera hopes to return to Cuba next summer to find a home country moving toward democratic values.

"I would like to take my family to see the country I'm from, a place they've never been allowed to go," Cabrera said.

Castro's death is another sign of changing times to local entrepreneurs, like St. Charles native Mark Vargas, who are hoping to gain access to an untapped business market. December 2014 saw President Barack Obama use executive powers to ease diplomatic relations. Earlier this year, Obama became the first sitting American president to visit Cuba in 88 years. Castro wrote a public letter following the visit to remind the world Cuba didn't need the U.S.

The missive didn't seem to blunt the diplomatic momentum. Vargas, who is the president of Licentiam, met with Cuban Ambassador Jose Cabanas Monday when he was in Chicago to promote business opportunities in Cuba. Vargas' regulatory technology company is hoping to bring its platform to Cuba to improve health outcomes and patient safety. Vargas said the door is open wider with the passing of Castro.

"It's important for the incoming (U.S.) presidential administration to maintain our diplomatic relationship with Cuba -- and even more so now with a Cuba post-Fidel," Vargas said.

Diplomacy is not a trait assigned to the local figure who has made, perhaps, the most high-profile comments about Castro in recent years -- former White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen.

In 2012, while managing the Miami Marlins, Guillen came under fire for telling Time Magazine he loved Castro and respects him for staying in power for so long. The team denounced Guillen's comments and suspended him for five games. Guillen also apologized, saying he used the wrong English words. The team fired Guillen at the end of the 2012 season. The normally vocal Guillen took a more reserved approach when asked for thoughts about Castro's death Saturday.

"No more comments about Castro," Guillen said via text message. "Thanks."

Daily Herald sports writer Scot Gregor contributed to this report.

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