Local Cuban community reflects on Castro's passing

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Locals Cuban community reflects on Fidel Castro's death
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Roberto Copa Matos, the owner of Old Havana Sandwich Shop, spoke to ABC11

DURHAM (WTVD) -- Every day, Roberto Copa Matos wakes up early to start work. He owns Old Havana Sandwich Shop on Main Street in Durham.

On Saturday morning he woke up to news that had already spread like wildfire.

"I heard it early in the morning. It was around six," said Matos.

Fidel Castro had died Friday at the age of 90.


"This is a very symbolic moment," said Matos.

By the time he heard the news, the streets of Little Havana in Miami had already been full of people celebrating, while the country of Cuba began its official nine days of mourning.

Before heading in to his sandwich shop to prepare for the rush that comes with a beautiful fall day in Durham and Small Business Saturday, Matos posted on Facebook asking people to come to his restaurant at 2:00 p.m. to toast the people of Cuba.

"I felt sad for Cubans, especially also because of the divisions between the families between the Cubans in Cuba and outside of Cuba."

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While he understands the many different feelings circulating around the death of Castro, he took pause to reflect on his own experience in Cuba.

"I was born and raised in Cuba," said Matos, "I grew up in a small town in Cuba, in a rural part of Cuba."

"There were many projects that were started with the system and the dictatorship of the Castros that captured the dreams of many Cubans," said Matos. "That came with a big price and the price was the impoverishment of Cubans, the destruction of wealth that we had at the moment. It came also with the murder of many Cubans that raise their hands to say I disagree with what's happening."

He said given all that, even his free education came at a price.

"When I finished my college studies, I basically realized that I was a slave of the Cuban government. Yes I was getting an education, I was given skills but I was asked to repress all of that and to work for them and to make $14 a month, 15 years ago," said Matos. "And the cost of living in Cuba at the time was $150 to $200."

"Many Cubans living in fear," said Matos. "I was part of that and I lived in fear for 30 years and it is difficult to overcome that."

He was able to move to the U.S. 15 years ago and started his restaurant several years ago. He recently organized a trip to Cuba with 27 of his customers, eager to share the beauty of Cuba with Americans. He's watched over the past few years change trickle into Cuba and is curious to see what is yet to come.

"Transition in Cuba has already been happening since a few years ago but the passing of Fidel Castro marks, I'll say the official time of change," said Matos.