Fidel Castro’s death at age 90 has prompted both joy and grief around the world. With the former leader of Cuba’s Communist Party now gone, Hofstra students and professors consider how his death might impact the region, as several make arrangements for a trip to the island in 2017.
President Raul Castro announced the death of his brother and predecessor in a televised statement on Friday, Nov. 25. The cause of his death was not released by Cuban officials; however, it has been evident to many that his health had been declining since he stepped down from office in 2008.
Over 2.5 million tweets about Castro and related trending topics have appeared on Twitter since the news was announced. Castro was famously known for ruling with an iron fist in an oppressive regime and was known globally for human rights violations and strict censorship in the country.
Castro identified as a Marxist-Leninist and revolutionized Cuba throughout his political reign, which lasted over 25 years. The country’s universal and free education and healthcare systems prompted citizens to praise Castro, rather than berate his malpractices.
Mitch Podgorowiez, a junior information studies student and grandson of Cuban immigrants, described celebrations outside of his South Florida home when news broke over Thanksgiving weekend.
“There were celebrations, not for the fact that he is dead but rather for what he stood for and all of the lives and families he had ruined,” Podgorowiez said.
Many Hofstra students feel connected to the region regardless of their heritage affiliation. Ben Abrams, a junior radio production major, will be one of 10 students traveling to Cuba on Hofstra’s winter intercession program next month. “I first felt connected to the country after doing an in-depth project my junior year of high school. From there, I became interested in the music, culture and political situation going on,” Abrams said.
Abrams will be spending two weeks in the country with nine other Hofstra students and two chaperones visiting various historical sites throughout the region.
“What makes this unique is that we’re mixing two unique disciplines into one trip,” said Professor Mario Murillo, chair of the Radio, Television and Film Department and one of the two chaperones.
Murillo will be leading the trip alongside Professor Kirby Veevers of the Department of Health Professions. Students will have the opportunity to receive credit in either a communications or health science course. Opportunities to work on special projects while abroad are also available.
Professor Murillo will be teaming up with Abrams to create a podcast about the trip.
“We’ll be creating a podcast in a similar style to [the weekly public radio show] ‘This American Life,’” Abrams said, who is cautious about how much freedom he will have to investigate and engage with everyday people as a student journalist. “I know that they limit what journalists can and can not say, however, I don’t know what that means for me as a student,” he said.
Besides that, Abrams doesn’t have many concerns about the trip, specifically when it comes to safety. “We’re going to be with professionals that know what they’re doing. I know that we wouldn’t be put into harm at anytime,” he said.
Professor Murillo, who has previously visited the country, feels a similar way about the current situation in Cuba. He has traveled extensively throughout Latin America and said that Cuba is not on his list of safety concerns. “I’d be more worried about our safety in Europe right now,” he said.
When asked how they feel Castro’s death will influence their trip, both Professor Murillo and Abrams are excited to hear from native Cubans themselves. “It’ll be interesting to see what they predict the future to be like,” Abrams said.
“We know that there won’t be any real change for the people who suffer under the tyrannical regime that he started in Cuba. Hopefully his death will start a new era filled with democracy where the people of Cuba will be free,” Podgorowiez said.