Cuban Exile Ponders Life After Castro

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Last Tuesday morning when I turned on my cell phone, there was a text message waiting for me from my assistant. It read: "Do you know that Fidel stepped down today as President of Cuba?" I paused and took a deep breath.

Fidel, the person who had ruled Cuba for almost my entire life, had finally stepped down. Was he playing another joke on us? I was convinced that only death could keep him from ruling Cuba.

I felt exhilarated and scared. It was the same feeling I had when my sister called to tell me that my father had died one evening last summer, and the same thought came over my head: "You have ruled over my entire life. Now what do I do?" My political father was stepping down from the governing of my country. What now?

"My country?" Yes, I know that even though I have lived in the United States for more than 40 years, Cuba is still my country.

I rushed to the television and was relieved to see that Miami was subdued for once at the news of Fidel. They had not all gotten into their boats and yachts and sailed south to liberate Havana. When CNN showed us Havana it was quiet there too, just a regular day. I felt calmer.

So I began to think about the future of Cuba. And, of course, I started making my wish list:

1. That the next president of the United States ends the embargo.

2. That the Cuban people replace old leaders with younger and more open-minded ones within their own ranks.

3. That the Cuban government frees all the political prisoners.

4. That the Cuban government brings in some kind of capitalism.

5. That all of this is enough for the Cubans in Miami and all the people in Washington to start speaking with the government of Cuba.

I got in front of my statue of "The Virgin of Regla" and prayed for reconciliation between Cubans living on both sides of The Blockade, the embargo.

My hope is that Cuba is allowed to become a part of the world again while keeping the social reforms that the revolution is so proud of: free education for all and free health care.

On Wednesday, CNN started playing a story about me, as a prominent Cuban exile who had spoken out about Cuba — a story they shot when they thought Fidel was going to die and which they told me would only play when Fidel DID died. When I saw it playing I realized that by giving up his power on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008, for all intents and purposes Fidel Castro had died. In many ways that was the greatest gift he could have given to the Cuban people, transition without bloodshed. Let us hope it remains this way.

Eduardo Machado is a Cuban-American playwright.

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