HOUSTON – Many Cubans in Houston said they hope Fidel Castro's death will lead to freedom in Cuba.
"We are not celebrating his death, but we are celebrating the first step for our liberation because we have too much suffering," said Jorge Ferragut, with Casa Cuba.
With Cuban music playing and flags hanging high, dozens gathered at Cafe Piquet in Bellaire after learning of Castro's death.
"We have the right to the change. What are the rights? The access to the freedom and the right to the rights," Ferragut said.
It's a change Alexa Rodriguez, 17, also wants to see. She said Castro's regime ruined the lives of her family members by forcing them to flee to the United States.
"I hope to see the country now. The regime be taken down," Rodriguez said. "Though the Castro rule is still in power, I hope to see it'll be taken down one day and the country will be restored to what it was before Castro came into power."
Before he came into power, Castro visited Houston in 1959, wearing a cowboy hat and smoking a cigar. At the time, there were hopes of a democracy.
"Some security people showed up and said that you have a meeting with el presidente," attorney Bill King said.
Nearly 30 years later, King met with Castro in 1988 during a successful mission to release Cuban prisoners.
"Mostly he sat around and talked about his view of the world and he was really a dedicated Marxist. He was one of those people that thought, 'If I can just get all the strings in my hands so I can control everything, I can fix all these problems,'" King said.
King recounts the rare meeting and held two keepsakes from the trip: a bottle of Cuban rum and a box of Cuban cigars. Now, he foresees rapid improvement.
"Hopefully now, the Cuban people will be able to move on to a freer society and economic growth," King said.
Cuban Americans yearn for the same.
"No matter how much time we will have, but Cuba will be free and independent again," Ferragut said.