Fidel Castro has died in Havana at the age of 90. He was a charismatic revolutionary and a ruthless leader who allowed no dissent. Michael Weissenstein is the AP's bureau chief in Havana and joins us. Michael, thanks so much for being with us.
MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN: Thanks for having me. Good morning.
SIMON: And as a generalization — from what you can see, people you've spoken with, how are Cubans responding to the news?
WEISSENSTEIN: I think there's a widespread sense of shock even though, obviously, Fidel was an old man who'd been in poor health. I think for many people, until they heard the news, they didn't realize what it would be like to wake up in a Cuba without the man who had reshaped it over the last 60 years.
SIMON: Castro takes up so much space in the Cuban mind. It's hard for us to imagine as Americans — isn't it? — how much of everyday conversation he's dominated for 50 years.
WEISSENSTEIN: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, he's remade every element of this country and every aspect of the way things work here — the way people behave, the way they relate to each other. And I think that's what is sinking in with people this morning. And they are also now, after knowing about it for about 10 hours, starting to think about what a Cuba looks like without Fidel and what impact this will have on the future.
SIMON: Which introduces this — Fidel Castro rhetorically championed the poor. He also held the Cuban economy in a kind of arrested state. He called for racial equality but often cracked down — but did crack down on the press and dissidents and Cuban gays. How do Cubans sort the different strands of his legacy?
WEISSENSTEIN: I think people here are very much able to separate out the elements that they like about the system Fidel created — free health care, education, general public safety and security — from those that they very much don't and which has many people leaving the country or trying to leave the country, you know, the terrible economic conditions and other unfulfilled promises of the revolution.
SIMON: Twenty percent of the country, we should notice — we should note the population of Cuba lives in exile now. There'll be an official mourning period of — what? — nine days, I believe.
WEISSENSTEIN: That's right. That's right. And Fidel's ashes will be taken across the country back along the route that he took from the mountains of the east to take Havana during the revolution.
SIMON: Michael, is there a feeling you can discern among Cubans that — even those who love Fidel Castro feel this might be an opportunity for change?
WEISSENSTEIN: I think that for some, it is a scary moment in which things may move too fast. I mean, there's always been a big bloc of people here, particularly in the revolutionary generation, who do not want to see rapid change. I think for almost all ordinary Cubans, there's a hope that — despite whatever sadness they're feeling — that this is an opportunity to move forward faster and with deeper change.
SIMON: Michael Weissenstein, who is the AP's bureau chief in Havana, Cuba, speaking with us about Cuban reaction to the death of Fidel Castro who died late last night at the age of 90. Michael, thanks so much for being with us.
WEISSENSTEIN: Thank you.