In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Cuba News
In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Cuba News
By LIZETTE ALVAREZ and NICK MADIGANDEC. 17, 2014
MIAMI — From the raucous cafecito counter at Versailles Restaurant, the
city’s Cuban touchstone, to the noisy streets in and beyond Little
Havana, Miami’s Cuban exiles and immigrants expressed astonishment over
the seismic news that the United States was liberalizing relations with
But, in a city with more Cubans than anywhere but Cuba, agreement over
the momentous announcement ended there.
For some — the aging generation of Cuban-American traditionalists who
take a hard line on Cuba policy — astonishment quickly turned to
acrimony. Denouncing the move as wrongheaded and disastrous, they viewed
President Obama’s decision to establish closer travel, diplomatic and
export ties to Cuba as capitulation to a dictatorship.
In return, they said, Mr. Obama received no guarantees from Cuba’s
president, Raúl Castro, and no commitment to human rights.
“There have been too many deaths, too much blood and too much terror,
and there is no reason to throw them a life preserver,” said Alex
Rodriguez, 63, who stood outside Versailles, describing himself as a man
who wears “two hats” — American and Cuban. “The Cuban people, from the
human rights perspective, still won’t have the freedom to vote, the
freedom of expression, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to determine
their own economic future. What do they get: maybe a little bit better
of an economic situation.”
Yet, in the same mix at Versailles and further afield in the storefronts
lining Little Havana, a different wave of people applauded the decision,
calling it past due. They make up a less vocal, less politically active
but nevertheless large part of the city’s makeup — recently arrived
Cubans who continue to stream in from the island and younger
Cuban-Americans who are less emotionally entangled in the relationship
between Cuba and Miami.
For them, the announcement is recognition that in five decades of Cold
War, anti-Castro sanctions have failed to achieve their goal: Bring down
the Castro brothers and usher democracy into Cuba.
“I think it’s time to leave all that behind,” Yadira Sebasco, 36, who
was born in Camagüey, Cuba’s third-largest city, and moved to Miami 11
years ago, said as she sat in her office at a travel agency that helps
book trips to the island. “You have to live in the present.”
Even some of the “historicos,” as the older generation is called, have
softened their views, recognizing the lack of democratic progress in
Cuba. Laureano Vilches, 71, stewed for decades over the fact that his
family’s business, a refrigerated warehouse in Havana, was seized by the
communist government. But today, he has set aside his outrage.
“As far as I’m concerned, this can only be good for the Cubans who are
still there, and they’ll live a better life economically,” said Mr.
Vilches, who went 40 years without setting foot in Cuba but now visits
every couple of months. “I don’t stay angry anymore.”
On a practical level, Mr. Obama’s executive action is expected to make
it easier for Americans and Cuban-Americans to travel and send more
money to people in Cuba and for businesses to export more approved goods
to the island. Americans will no longer have to load up on dollars for
their trips — the only option for most Americans visiting the island.
Soon, they will be able to use their credit cards and bring home more
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This loosening of restrictions will be a boon to some businesses in
Miami, particularly those who ferry people and goods to Cuba.
“I think you will see an exploding travel industry emerging overnight
and you will see investment now that is, in essence, sanctioned,” said
Fernand Amandi, a managing partner of Bendixen & Amandi International,
which tracks the changes in Cuban-Americans in Miami through its
polling. “It has the potential to be a watershed moment.”
Others reminded that Cuba has had strong ties with many European and
Latin American countries, yet no democracy has resulted.
“Where are the changes?” Mr. Rodriguez asked.
But, in Miami, Mr. Obama’s decision touched on something more profound
than just esoteric foreign policy. Cuba is personal here. It is about
sisters who long to share a plate of picadillo across the dinner table,
but cannot. It is about the son who left his father long ago across the
Florida Straits. And it is about the grandmothers and grandfathers who
arrived two generations ago and have embraced the United States but
cannot bear to simply bury their sorrow and anger just because it is now
Their sadness is not easily shaken off. It is rooted in their thoughts
of lost homes, the deaths of friends and relatives, the island’s
tropical transcendence and the identities they were forced to abandon so
many years ago.
“No matter how good you feel in this country, it’s never going to feel
like being in your own land,” said Ramon Bermudez, 86, as he leaned on
his cane in Domino Park, where older Cubans gather daily to exchange
barbs and slap dominoes on tables.
Others, many of them recent arrivals, want to try a new approach.
Apolitical, eager to steer clear of the stridency that the Cuba debate
generates here, they say their aim is simple: to help their families on
Hearing the news after she arrived at her job as a manicurist, Yudis
Perez said it had been five years since she last saw her parents in
Cuba, a long and painful separation. Perhaps now, she said, it will be
easier and cheaper to reunite.
“It should have happened long ago,” said Ms. Perez, who left Matanzas
for Miami 10 years ago. “If this succeeds, it will be good for Cubans
here and good for Cubans there.”
While all Cuban-Americans here applauded the release of Alan Gross, who
had spent five years in a Cuban prison, many had harsh words for Mr.
Obama’s decision to release three Cuban spies. The spies were members of
the Cuban Five who had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue, a group of
pilots who would scan the sea for Cuban immigrants. One of the three
spies had been serving a life sentence for murder conspiracy in the 1996
downing of one of the planes, which killed four Cuban-Americans.
Standing in the throng at Versailles, Miami’s mayor, Tomás Regalado,
said the announcement would do little to steer the island toward
democracy. Mr. Obama, he said, is giving the benefit of the doubt to a
“This is not a political opening to Cuba,” Mr. Regalado said. “This is a
public relations movement.”
Susan Kaufman Purcell, the director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy
at the University of Miami, said that both optimism and skepticism were
warranted in Wednesday’s announcement.
“This is a dictatorship,” she said, adding that Mr. Castro’s economic
reforms have “always looked more promising than they actually were.”
Sitting on a bench in the shade at Domino Park, Jorge Alonso, 86, took
the long view in a narrative that has already seemed interminable for
many here. “Everything that has a beginning must have an end,” Mr.
Alonso said. “On the day you least expect it, Cuba is going to be free.”
Source: In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Cuba
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