Exiles divided on plans to thaw US-Cuba relations


United States CubaA supporter of President Obama, Abel Dominguez, left, holds a sign as he is photographed by news photographers in the Little Havana area of Miami. Photo: AP

All eyes in the U.S. immediately turned to Miami, where many expected the country’s largest population of Cuban exiles to pour angrily into the streets, when Cuban and American leaders announced they would restore diplomatic relations after a standoff lasting more than a half-century.

Outrage was decidedly muted, however, with only a handful of demonstrations, while some of the expatriates known for their support of isolationist tactics actually expressed support for the changes.

The response to Wednesday’s surprise announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro was a reflection of how much the Cuban-American community has changed since the Cold War days, when the U.S. began trying to freeze out the island’s communist government.

Daniel Lafuente, the 27-year-old founder of tech hub LAB Miami, grew up hearing his mother and grandfather talk of their exile. He watched the Arab Spring uprisings with dismay, thinking the U.S. and Cuba were frozen stuck. He remains opposed to Raul Castro and his older brother, Fidel, but like other Cuban-Americans, he is willing after years of heartbreak and strained expectations to see new diplomacy and to let go of demands that the U.S. isolate Cuba.

“This is like a new age,” Lafuente said.

Most of the 2 million Cubans living in the U.S. call Florida home, and Little Havana has long been the go-to place for demonstrations aimed at isolating the Castros. Cuban artists who tried to perform in Miami were threatened; those who dared perform in Cuba were shunned. But such efforts have faded, and the latest protests tend to draw the same small group of activists.

Younger generations and recent arrivals from Cuba tend to be more open to exchange and dialogue. Older exiles whose relatives were killed or imprisoned after the 1959 revolution are less likely to approve of a thaw.

But there are exceptions at all ages: Cuban-born Raul Hernandez, 60, has lived in Miami for 35 years and has two brothers in Cuba. Travel restrictions kept him from seeing his parents before they died.

“I think the embargo has not been good for the Cuban people because the government never changed,” he said.


This story is compiled with information from the Associated Press.