US President Donald Trump. (Reuters)
Many Cuban exiles in Miami are embracing the changes President Donald Trump announced Friday to his predecessor’s policies of engagement with the communist island – but some want even more. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba and easing of decades-old travel and business restrictions had divided Cuban-Americans. Hard-line exiles agreed with Trump’s move to roll back some of the changes by restricting commerce with entities linked to Cuba’s military, restoring tougher travel rules and other moves in hopes of forcing Cuba toward democracy.
While Trump gave his speech, a hundred activists about evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the president chanted and held up signs outside the venue, the Manuel Artime Theater, named after a late political leader of Cuban exiles who launched the failed Bay of Pigs uprising in 1961. Cuban-born poet Armando Valladares, who was imprisoned for 22 years by the government of then-Cuban leader Fidel Castro, said at a weekly luncheon of Cuban exiles that he is vexed that not all of Obama’s changes were rolled back.
”President Trump promised that he would repeal everything Obama had done with Cuba,” said Valladares, who was appointed ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. ”That would have been consistent with his campaign. I am not satisfied with the way this was done.”
Otto Rodriguez Villamonte, who arrived from Cuba in 1960, said he hadn’t read the details of the new plan or listened to Trump’s announcement but that he thought not much was changing. ”They are cosmetic changes that don’t mean anything,” he said in Spanish. ”I guess we have to wait and see because I think he has good intentions. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
Other members of the luncheon meeting, held in a Miami suburb, expressed disappointment that they were not consulted by U.S. lawmakers from Florida who helped shape the policy, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans.
At the venue where Trump announced his policy changes, the president received a warm welcome from audience members. Julian Martinez, 71 and retired, described Trump words as ”extraordinary.” A former Cuban soldier who arrived in the U.S. by boat in 1959, he said that that Trump measures were the right ones to take. ”We cannot continue to bring concessions to the Cuban government”, he said.
Jonny Lopez De la Cruz, a 77-year-old Bay of Pigs veteran, said he was overcome with ”great emotion,” adding that the Cuban people deserve freedom after 58 years of suffering. ”I am totally sure that this is much better that what Obama did,” said Lopez, who arrived in the U.S. in 1960.
But those who favor a greater opening with Cuba say the president’s decision is a setback for improved relations and business. Pablo Llabre, a lawyer, came to Miami in 1990. He approached a reporter at the exiles’ luncheon with what called his ”controversial point of view.” ”I did think the way to go about this was the opening,” he said. ”All the (U.S. economic) embargo has brought upon Cuba is misery. Restrictions, the embargo will not bring down the regime.”
Across the Florida Straits in Havana, many people worried Trump’s moves would simply mean more hardship. ”When he’s cutting back on travel, he’s hurting us, the Cuban entrepreneurs. We’re the ones who are hurt,” said Camilo Diaz, a 44-year-old waiter in a private restaurant in Havana.