MIAMI – Miami’s Little Havana is a feast for the senses: a place where Cuban food, music and culture come alive, as families dance in the streets on a hot Sunday afternoon.
Cuba is never far from anyone’s mind, and no one is shy about their opinions of U.S. President Barack Obama’s looming visit to Havana.
“He is going for nothing,” exclaimed Jose Pastor in the middle of a crowded street festival, “the Cuban people need freedom, not Obama to go over there.”
On this day there are many Cuban exiles in the crowd, and many more first and second generation Cuban-Americans.
One woman, who does not want to give her name, offers a less popular opinion. She supports Obama’s trip and the restoration of diplomatic ties with the Castro regime.
“I think it’s wonderful, he needs to go,” she said.
For some Cuban exiles, renewed ties with the U.S. have created an internal conflict.
Yeney Ramos fled the communist regime in the mid-1990s. Today she’s married to Roberto, a fellow exile who left years earlier in a small boat filled with Cuban art. Roberto spent three days adrift at sea before he was rescued by the U.S. coast guard, along with his paintings.
The couple runs the Cubaocho art gallery in Little Havana, where they work to preserve and restore pre-revolution Cuban art.
“I get emotional when I talk about my country,” explains Yeney as we sit in the courtyard of the gallery sipping Cuban coffee. “I wish I could be there.”
Ramos explains that she was at first optimistic about the restoration of diplomatic ties, believing it would improve the quality of life in the communist country. Yet months after embassies re-opened in both nations, she’s concerned that things aren’t progressing for the Cuban people.
“It’s going to take time, the government is very tough, very closed,” she lamented. “For (the government) what they want is money, for me what I want is the change for the Cuban people.”
Ramos believes her people deserve democracy, access to information and the kinds of opportunities she has found in the United States.
That seems to be part of the White House strategy to restore relations, while pushing lawmakers in congress to lift the economic embargo of Cuba.
What worries exiles like Ramos is a belief that the Cuban government will not share its new found wealth.
“One of my concerns is that the government gets more money to repress more of the people,” she said.
The Obama administration seems to have acknowledged those fears, and the president’s visit will include meetings with both Raul Castro and Cuban dissidents.
Despite her concerns, Ramos remains cautiously optimistic about Obama’s trip to her homeland, believing this may be a turning point for her country, even if it takes decades to see real change.
Ominously, she says that so long as the Castro regime is in power, she and many other exiles feel they are unable to return to Cuba. “For me to come back I’m afraid. I’m afraid, because I suffered a lot under the government,” she says.
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