Cuban-Americans, exiles pay respects to those who died fleeing Cuba

Memorial took place as Cubans mourned leader Fidel Castro

MIAMI – In Cuba, Sunday was a day of mourning as the remains of Cuban leader Fidel Castro were interred in a private cemetery.

Meanwhile, Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans in South Florida weren’t mourning Castro.

Instead, dozens of people visited the Cuban Memorial in Tamiami Park to remember the people who have died escaping the communist country.

"Ten thousand names of men and women and children that have been victims of the system that is still there 90 miles from our shore," Mario de la Pena said. 

De la Pena's son was killed in 1996 when two Brothers to the Rescue plans were shot down by Cuban air force jets during a humanitarian mission.

"Mario was a victim of Castro, just like his other three companions from Brothers to the Rescue," de la Pena said.

The plane was flying over international airspace at the time. 

"We should never lose our hopes. Good will always win over evil," de la Pena said. "I'm a Cuban-American. I'm an American citizen, but I also want my native country to be free, to be free just like we are."

Mayra Guerra was living in Cuba when her brother attempted to escape, along with several others.

"He left a note saying that he was leaving the country, that we will hear from him,"  Guerra  said.

The group never made it off the communist island nation.

"They were leaving in a boat and they were shattered by bullets," Guerra said.

Organizers of the event said they wanted to honor people they consider to be martyrs and victims of Castro's regime.

"We are together. We have to keep fighting for the freedom of Cuba. For people who don't believe that this really happened, learn, read, educate yourself and don’t label people of Cuba like crazy," Guerra said.

With Castro's death, many are confident in a brighter future for Cuba, but de la Pena said it will take time, and there is a lot of work to do.

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