WPTV got a chance to talk with people who returned to South Florida on one of those charter plane trips to Cuba that took flight when President Obama began the process of normalizing relations with that nation.
“The whole country was sad,” said Michael McCarthy, of Denver, who returned today from Cienfuegos, Cuba. “It was quiet everywhere you went.”
A quiet, stillness is how McCarthy describes the mood in Santa Clara when people learned Fidel Castro was dead.
“There was a ceremony where you could lineup and sign something saying you're giving your condolences and giving flowers and the entire city waited in a line. It was wrapping around the entire center of town,” said McCarthy. “Everyone we talked to was brought to tears.”
He arrived in Fort Lauderdale this afternoon with his wife and friend. “We saw a lot of people that were in a lot of pain and we were trying to be respectful of that,” said McCarthy.
It too was a travel day Celine Douthe and Felix Gaspar, of Madrid, will never forget. “We were feeling somehow like being in a really special moment, that's for sure,” explained Gaspar.
So much so that the couple went to great lengths to buy two newspapers in Havana on Saturday. One paper’s banner article describes Castro as beloved.
“There were a lot of tourists that were trying to scramble to get newspapers and of course the price of the papers would go up because of that and they would become somehow a hot thing to get,” said Gaspar.
But the couple describes a less somber mood in Havana.“I didn't see anybody crying,” said Douthe.
Gaspar, added, “You could notice some people were sad about that.”
The hope these visitors say is that Castro’s death sparks a major change for the people in Cuba. “They're hoping for a change and i don't know if it's going to come or not,” said Veksler, who arrived from Cienfuegos with his son.
The very first flight from Fort Lauderdale International Airport to Havana leaves Wednesday morning. The airline is JetBlue. It will be followed by more regularly scheduled flights on Spirit and Southwest Airlines later this week.