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    In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Cuba News

    In Miami, Astonishment Over Action and Disagreement Over Cuba News

    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
    Cuban products.

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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
    considered old-fashioned.

    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
    the island.

    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
    terrorist state.

    “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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