Cubans in Miami slam Washington’s ‘betrayal’

By Diego Urdaneta, AFP

MIAMI, Florida–Cubans in Miami’s Little Havana reacted with anger �X and a sprinkling of hope �X to U.S. President Barack Obama’s dramatic bid Wednesday to end a half-decade Cold War with the communist-ruled island. ��It is a betrayal. The talks are only going to benefit Cuba,�� said Carlos Munoz Fontanil in Calle Ocho, the historic heart of an exile community that has long pined for the fall of the Castro regime in Havana. He spoke as dozens of people gathered outside Cafe Versailles, a Little Havana landmark, to protest the rapprochement announced almost simultaneously in Washington and Havana by Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, 83. Declaring a ��new chapter�� in U.S. relations with Cuba, Obama agreed with Castro to restore full diplomatic relations severed since 1961 and to work to lift a U.S. trade embargo imposed in 1960. The agreement was capped with a Cold War-like prisoner swap.

��I knew this was going to happen,�� said a frustrated Osvaldo Hernandez, of the anti-Castro organization Vigilia Mambisa, clearly unhappy with the developments as he joined protesters carrying a sign denouncing Washington’s ��betrayal.�� Hernandez, 50, said he suspected Obama had been planning the opening for a long time, but pinned his hopes on a Republican-controlled Congress. ��The trade embargo will never be lifted,�� he said.

Outrage toward Obama

An equally outraged Felix Tirse, who arrived from Cuba 53 years ago, said Obama’s surprise announcement showed ��a lack of respect.�� ��He is more communist than the rest of them,�� he said. Munoz Fontanil also fulminated against Obama and warned that the United States was ��marching toward disaster, the country is marching to the left.�� Tomas Regalado, the Cuban-born mayor of Miami, arrived on Calle Ocho to commiserate. ��It’s sad that the U.S. has given everything in exchange for nothing,�� he said, referring to Cuba as ��still a terrorist nation.�� ��You would hope that request for democracy or free elections or to free Cuban political prisoners would have been part of the deal,�� he said. A senior U.S. administration official said 53 Cubans regarded by Washington as political prisoners will be released as part of the agreement reached with Havana.

‘Not all bad’

A few Cubans, who have forged deep roots in the United States, shrugged off the news. ��I have no interest in Cuba. It doesn’t affect me,�� said Pedro Alvarez, a 79-year-old retiree who has spent the last 52 years in the United States. Alvarez was at another Calle Ocho landmark, a park where Cubans and others gather during the day to play dominos. ��Will relations improve? I doubt it, after more than half a century of quarrelling,�� he said. The older generation of Cuban-Americans �X who lost property and businesses, and family to political violence �X tends to be far more passionately anti-Castro than their Cuban-American grandchildren.

The same is true for the thousands of Cuban-Americans who migrated here in recent years, who grew up under the communist regime, now in their 20s, 30s and 40s �X and are far more open to engaging with Havana. Normalizing ties ��is better because my people are going to benefit from it,�� said Eduardo Deido, a 19-year-old student who arrived in Miami at age five. Deido, who said he feels more comfortable speaking English than Spanish, still has relatives to whom he sends money in Cuba. His new dream, he said, would be to help them more, or help them immigrate to the United States.