Fidel Castro's death impacts Southwest Virginia in variety of ways

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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) Cuba's longtime leader Fidel Castro has died, at the age of 90. The former communist President had been out of office for about 10 years with his brother Raul Castro taking over. Raul broke the news of his brother's death late Friday night, leading many to wake up to the news Saturday morning.

Shayne Dwyer/WDBJ7

Castro's death is having a varied impact on the area. In terms of the manner of celebration, it's truly a case of different strokes for different folks. But it's what happens next that is a big question on many people's minds.

In Miami, crowds rushed the streets. But here in Southwest Virginia where some of the closest things to Havana are pottery and this painting, the expressions over Fidel Castor's death are a bit different. For Estela Gonzalez, there are no cheers for another man's death, but the news is empowering.

I saw the TV (Friday night) that Castro died, I don't say anything about oh it's good that he died or something like that. No, God put him in the place where he wants. But that was not a good president, that was not a good man," she said.

Gonzalez escaped Cuba in the 90's via Guantanamo Bay, and with her husband now owns Roanoke fan-favorite Cuban Island on Williamson Road.

"I love my country, I love the people my friends my family but him, I'm not really happy with (Castro)," Gonzalez said. "Cuban people are friendly, like to work, but everything there is illegal, it's only for the government."

Joseph Scarpaci is the Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Cuban Culture and Economy. He's been to Cuba 80 times, more than 20 of them trips with Virginia Tech.

"Bi-laterally from a political economic side, not a lot will change," Scarpaci said. "The American trade embargo is still in place the U.S. Congress has to lift that. We can expect the Cuban government to continue with sort of modest market reforms but Fidel Castro has been out of power for about 10 years."

Any major changes for the Cuban-America relationship wouldn't come until the next president takes office.

"It's very hard to get a reading on what President-elect Trump will do and that's unfortunate because Virginia has a lot of products to sell to Cuba," Scarpaci said. "Tobacco, Cubans love pork and our pork production is excellent. A dream in heaven would be Cuban wrapper tobacco for cigars combined with Southside Virginia. It would be a great sort of medium priced, mild cigar smoke."

There are two possible immediate cultural things that may be on the table for us following Castro's death. First is college study abroad programs, the second is baseball. The rules could be loosened even more on Cuban players signing with major league teams, leading them to end up on a number of the farm teams right here in our area.

But for Gonzalez, the progress is not enough. She will continue to visit Cuba but said Roanoke is her home for good. She will not have true satisfaction until all Castros are removed from power and the Cuban government makes a shift toward democracy.