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Cuban-American Reactions to U.S. Diplomatic News Vary Widely
From the Wall Street Journal of Wed, 17 Dec 2014 18:02:27 EST
A man at Café Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood voices his displeasure with the opening of diplomatic ties with Cuba.
A man at Café Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood voices his displeasure with the opening of diplomatic ties with Cuba. Andrew Kaufman for The Wall Street Journal

Cuban-Americans reacted to the news that the U.S. would begin normalizing relations with Cuba with a wide range of sentiment, from outrage to jubilation, highlighting deep rifts in a community that is changing rapidly.

At Café Versailles in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood—long a bastion for older Cuban exiles who support a hard line against the island government—protesters angrily denounced President Barack Obama ’s announcement Wednesday.

“No president should negotiate with terrorists,” said Osvaldo Hernández, a 50-year-old member of the anti-Communist group Vigilia Mambisa, who was waving a placard accusing Mr. Obama of a “conspiracy” with Cuban President Raúl Castro and his brother, Fidel. With the Castros, he said, “you need to remove them by force. There is no way to dialogue with them.”

But nearby, George Davila, a 35-year-old lawyer, offered enthusiastic support for Mr. Obama’s moves. “I’ve been an advocate for this kind of policy change for a long time,” he said. The U.S. approach toward Cuba, including a decades-old trade embargo, has been an “idiotic policy,” he said. “It only helps the Castro regime manipulate people into believing” that the U.S. government, rather than Cuba’s, is to blame for the island’s woes.

Those divergent reactions illustrate how the Cuban-American community, which once solidly supported a tough approach to the Castro government, now includes a broad spectrum of opinion on how to handle relations with the island. Unlike political exiles who fled in the 1960s and harbor deep grievances against the government, those who migrated in recent decades typically left for economic reasons. They often have family on the island and favor loosened restrictions on traveling there and sending money to relatives.

“That population wants normal relations,” said Guillermo Grenier, a sociology professor at Florida International University. “They know that the Cuban government at this point in its history is not a revolutionary government. It’s a pragmatic government.”

A poll released by FIU in June found that support for the embargo among Cuban-Americans had fallen to 48% from 87% in 1991. Another survey conducted earlier this year by the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., found that in Miami-Dade County, home to the largest Cuban-American population in the country, 64% of respondents supported normalized relations with Cuba.

Still, members of the older exile community who remain steadfastly opposed to engaging the Cuban government are usually the ones “with the large megaphones who respond first and most loudly,” Mr. Grenier said.

They were out in force in Little Havana Wednesday. On Calle Ocho, the main drag, a pickup truck with a loud speaker mounted on top rolled up and down the street repeatedly, as the driver condemned Mr. Obama’s actions. “This man in the White House is betraying us!” he yelled.

In Union City, N.J., also known as Little Havana on the Hudson, reactions from Cuban-Americans were similarly mixed. “If Obama creates relations with Cuba, he’s violating the law,” said Ricardo Fernández Llosas, 86, who owns La Villa de Paris clothing shop. “In Cuba, every year, every month, human rights are violated.”

Meanwhile, Vania Quiala, a 37-year-old teacher having lunch at a Cuban restaurant, said, “For me, it’s fantastic.” She said she was looking forward to being able to send money to Cuba and call people there more easily. “Everything is going to change for the best,” she said.

— Thomas MacMillan contributed to this article.

Write to Arian Campo-Flores at arian.campo-flores@wsj.com



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