- - Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Obama administration’s announcement that U.S.-Cuba relations are to be renewed has sparked hope — and uncertainty — about what it will mean for divided families and the Cuban people in general.

“I think the Cuban people in general are going to benefit mightily from this opening. And Cuban-American families that have members still back in Cuba will appreciate seeing the well-being of their family members improved and increased,” said Marc Hanson, senior associate for Cuba with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which has long opposed the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Other observers are appalled at the idea that the bloodshed and injustices their families have suffered are being overlooked or downplayed.

“Formalizing relations w a torture regime means nothing if it can’t help the people of #Cuba #freedom is a basic human right,” tweeted model and TV personality Daisy Fuentes, whose family fled Cuba when she was toddler.

“The White House has conceded everything and gained little,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, who was born in America after his parents abandoned Cuba in the politically turbulent 1950s.

“No commitment” was gained from Cuba on freedom of the press, speech or elections, or opening up the internet or “even the semblance of a transition to democracy,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Hanson of WOLA predicted that relationships between Cubans and their U.S. family members would now become even stronger.

Obama administration policies in 2009 and 2011 have already assisted these families by permitting U.S. family members to travel to Cuba and make remittances to their family members, said Mr. Hanson.

In fact, those close and regular communications are “actually changing the dynamic in Florida on the politics of Cuba,” he said.

Younger Cuban-Americans and those who travel and send gifts to family in Cuba “have a very different opinion” than the older, hard-line Cuban-Americans, who have wanted to isolate people who stayed on the island, Mr. Hanson said.

Now there are “large swaths” of the Cuban-American community who are very supportive of engagement, he said. “They actually see their family members there as people they want to maintain connection with, not cut off.”

Most Americans are prohibited from traveling to Cuba. But close relatives of Cubans and academics are permitted to visit. Some 170,000 authorized travelers did so last year, Associated Press reported.

There are about 2 million Cuban and Cuban-Americans in the United States. Cuba has about 12 million people.

Initial reaction to President Obama’s Wednesday announcement about “normalizing” diplomatic relations with Cuba was mixed.

Some people were positive about the new opening for dialogue, diplomacy and some commercial activities between the Cold War enemies.

“I think it’s great because I have family there and I think this may improve the experience for families to visit each other,” Cuban singer Niho Mozas told the Houston Chronicle. She recalled that her sister once tried to get a U.S. visa in Cuba, and “she had a terrible experience” because Cuba was “very anachronistic.”

But others were uneasy.

“All my life, I’ve wondered if this historic moment would ever come in my lifetime,” wrote Ed Lavandera, a CNN correspondent whose family was split apart in 1959 by Fidel Castro’s revolution.

“In my mind, it was supposed to be a moment like the Berlin Wall coming down; a highly anticipated event the world would watch together. But instead, the news seemed to come out of thin air on the week before Christmas,” Mr. Lavandera wrote. Cuban exiles, he added, are passionately concerned about the poverty, hunger, crumbling buildings and social injustices borne by “ordinary Cubans.”

“The Cuban people are no freer today than they were the first day of the Cuban regime,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican, in response to CNN questions.

Fifteen years ago, the case of 5-year-old Elian Gonzalez introduced Americans to the family struggles of Cubans.

In November 1999, the Cuban boy miraculously survived a desperate effort by his mother and other refugees to use a boat to reach Florida. Most of the refugees, including Elian’s mother, died when the boat sank, but Elian was rescued and brought to live with relatives in Miami. They made plans to raise him in America.

However, Elian’s father — backed by the Castro regime — demanded his son be returned to him.

The Clinton administration, courts and advocates fought over the child until April 2000, when gun-wielding federal agents were sent in to grab Elian on orders from then-Attorney General Janet Reno.

After more court battles, the boy and his father returned to Cuba, where he was treated like a hero. In America, the Clinton administration was berated for engineering a travesty.

Elian, now a young adult, was quoted last year by Cuban media blaming U.S. law for violating his rights to be with his father, keep his nationality and remain in his cultural context. Americans are often “the victims of disinformation,” he told the Union of Young Communists in 2013.

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