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Exiles divided on plans to thaw US-Cuba relations

Posted December 18, 2014

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— Roberto Copa Matos grew up in Cuba and loves his homeland, so when the Durham businessman heard Wednesday that the U.S. was restoring diplomatic and economic relations with the Cuba after more than 50 years, he was cautiously optimistic.

"I thought it was the right decision to make," said Copa Matos, who moved to the U.S. 12 years ago and now owns, with his wife, Old Havana Sandwich Shop in downtown Durham.

"There is a fact that has not changed even though the U.S. policy toward Cuba changes, and it is that Cuba has a dictatorship system. It’s a regime," he said. "There is no freedom. There are no human rights, and for somebody who thinks differently, it is very hard to make his or her own way in Cuba."

Outrage to the move has been decidedly muted, especially in Miami, where most of the 2 million Cubans in the U.S. live, with only a handful of demonstrations. Some of the expatriates known for their support of isolationist tactics even expressed support for the changes.

"I think the embargo has not been good for the Cuban people because the government never changed," said Cuban-born Raul Hernandez, 60, who has lived in Miami for 35 years and has two brothers in Cuba.

Travel restrictions kept Hernandez from seeing his parents before they died.

Copa Matos agrees, saying trying to isolate Cuba "has not produced the results that are expected."

"Total isolation has not hurt the Cuban government, and the Cuban people have been restricted from having access not only to material things but to contact with people living in a different environment," he said. "Communication and sharing of ideas is important for all human beings."

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.

Ahmed Martel, 43, a Web designer in Miami who is too young to remember the revolution but lived under the Castro government until he left the island in 1992, is opposed to the plan to strengthen ties with Cuba.

"It doesn't make any sense to put Cuba on the same level as the United States," Martel said. "It doesn't make any sense to us to sit down with them and negotiate."

Ana Lourdes-Cuesta, 45, of Miami, said she couldn't believe Obama would consider shedding the "terrorist state" label for Cuba and normalizing relations.

"Now we're going to be friends and get dinner together, kissing babies and shaking hands? No. You can't erase history," Lourdes-Cuesta said as she waved a Cuban flag.

Copa Matos said he thinks the U.S. can open trade relationships with Cuba without supporting the government there, but it will be difficult.

"Investments coming into Cuba have only helped the Cuban government gain profits." he said. "It has not passed on to the Cuban people."

Direct interaction between Cubans and Americans would provide the best avenue to helping the island populace, he said.

"They will not only benefit from material help, but from getting to know people from other places that have different ways of thinking, that are not fearful about what they think and expressing what they think," he said.

Ramon Saul Sanchez, who runs a group dedicated to helping new arrivals from Cuba, said Obama's "radical step" will force people in Florida who are passionate about Cuba to become more engaged.

"This isn't a setback – it's actually a challenge" for an exile community accustomed to business as usual, Sanchez said.


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  • Hubris Dec 18, 2014

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    The IGNORANCE is amazing!!! It was NIXON-Kissinger that opened relations with China. The main reason they did that was to find an end to the Vietnam war that China was funding and that JFK and LBJ started.

    Time to bring back U.S. history in our public schools.

  • disgusted2010 Dec 18, 2014

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    Sure hope you stay.

  • Mannin Black Dec 18, 2014
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    They are blind to what their Republican God has done when their nemesis Obama does the same. They are blind to what any Republican has done when Obama does the same. Including executive orders.

  • SirWired Dec 18, 2014

    We are outright allies with countries that make Cuba look like a democratic paradise. (Mubarak's Egypt, Hussein's Iraq (when he was still fighting Iran), Pakistan, Iran (when it was still run by the Shah), Indonesia, various banana republics in Central/South America over the years, etc.)

    The Cuba Embargo was created during a time when our one and only criteria to decide if we were going to be friendly with a new government was if it was run by communists or not. (Democracy and Human Rights were not a requirement of any sort.) It was perpetuated through shameless pandering for votes in Florida.

  • frosty Dec 18, 2014

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    Cuba was isolated because it was being used by communists to destabilize other nations. Something it would continue to do if it was not as poor as it is.

    Obama wants to reach out to Cuba because he wants to, and has, destabilize the USA.

  • Sean Creasy Dec 18, 2014
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    Why do I feel that this is the prelude to another round of sick, homeless, unemployed refugees flooding our borders and further sandbag our already overburdened welfare system?

  • raphael27520 Dec 18, 2014

    The Incompetence and Stupidly of Barack Hussein Obama and Junta know no bounds.
    Now he has enabled the Dictator Castro Brothers to remain in power forever.

    The Barack Hussein Obama philosophy- no Free Ally goes unpunished and no Enemy goes without being rewarded for Despotism.

  • PanthersFan45 Dec 18, 2014

    Obama who ran on uniting people and working bi-partisan fashion has once again injected himself into the middle of something that divides people. Isn't it great ?

  • tunnybass123 Dec 18, 2014

    all of this is bogus, just something Obama is drumming up

  • downtowner Dec 18, 2014

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    What did we get? Try Capitalism.