Correspondent Ruth Morris reports on the emergence of new, moderate voices in Miami’s Cuban-American community. They tend to be young and interested in dialogue with their peers living in Cuba.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Communication between the United States and Cuba has been increasing lately. True there’s still a US trade embargo on the island and most Americans can’t travel there but the Obama Administration has lifted restrictions how often Cuban Americans can go to Cuba to visit family. Washington and Havana have also held talks about immigration and postal services. All this communication has sparked protest from some in Florida’s Cuban-American community. Yet as we hear from reporter Ruth Morris new voices are emerging from that community as well.
RUTH MORRIS: In Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood there’s a museum dedicated to the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion when Cuban exiles with CIA training tried to overthrow Fidel Castro. For many Cuban-Americans it’s not just a memory.
ESTEBAN BOVO: We lost 14 members of the brigade and to this day I haven’t forgotten them.
RUTH MORRIS: Veteran Esteban Bovo was a pilot for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. He represents an entrenched old guard. He hasn’t been back to Cuba in almost 50 years. He says traveling to the island puts tourists dollars in the hands of a murderous, communist regime. And he’s dismayed by more recent Cuban arrivals who tend to travel back often to see their families.
BOVO: You come over. You go and you claim to be political asylum because you were persecuted in Cuba and after you get you papers you go back to Cuba. What the hell is this? If you were persecuted a year ago, you’re persecuted now.
MORRIS: No ambiguity here when it comes to Fidel Castro.
BOVO: The guy is a criminal.
MORRIS: And President Obama.
BOVO: I didn’t vote for him.
MORRIS: For decades the old guard has dominated the political discourse here, on the airwaves, at the ballot box, and across the coffee counters in Little Havana. They strongly support the embargo. Disagree and you may be branded a communist. But it’s getting easier to meet Cuban-Americans who disagree with the old guard. A few years ago, Neli Santamarina opened her own coffee bar on the outskirts of Little Havana. It’s called Tinta y Café. There are Cuban travel books on the shelves here.
NELI SANTAMARINA: I was tired of not having the possibility of speaking freely you know without being antagonized, criticized, censored.
MORRIS: Santamarina started holding political chats at the café. She says she’s less interested in telling Cuba what to do and more interested in hearing from Cubans.
SANTAMARINA: The analogy that I give it is if you’re a doctor and you have a patient that has cancer and you don’t see a patient, that patient, and yet you stand on the other side of the hospital and you prescribe medicine how can you do that? You have to have contact with your patient. And in this case the patient is the Cuban people.
MORRIS: This more moderate stance has been around for awhile. But now the so-called bridge Cubans like Santamarina have a new ally – the youth. Felice Gorordo is a regular at Tinta y Café. He sips strong Cuban coffee and speaks Cuban Spanish but he was born here in Miami. At 26, he’s a co-founder of Raizes de Esperanza.
FELICE GORORDO: Raizes de Esperanza started in 2003 as a network of young Cubans and Cuban Americans who could best be described going through an identity crisis. And we realized very early on that politics did not unite us. We had those who were supportive of the restrictions and the embargo and those who were against it. And we did agree on was that we all wanted the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities here in the States for our counterparts on the island.
MORRIS: Raizes is growing fast. They’re on 55 campuses already. They reach out in practical ways. The group refurbishes all cell phones for example and puts them in the hands of young Cubans. The old guard might own the airwaves but they youth have texting and the internet.
ROMINA RUIZ: Cuba and the picture of change? It’s four gigabyte USB.
MORRIS: Romina Ruiz is a Cuban-American freelance journalist. She’s 23.
RUIZ: Cuba tends to be like this bubble. The average Cuban feels like people are piercing in but rarely do they get to pierce out. And the internet has been the useful tool for them to be able to pierce out. And so there’s like this blogostroika going on where people are anxious to communicate. They’re saying I’m not interested in politics I just want to let you know what my daily life is like.
MORRIS: Felice Gorordo says the key is building bridges between generations. He points to his own grandparents. When he first told them he wanted visit Cuba they ran an intervention and tried to stop him. But he went and brought back photographs and family gossip. Little by little his grandparents came around.
GORORDO: On trips after that they actually gave me money and letters to give to the family members that I would visit with. And this last time that I went they actually, for the first time ever, gave me their blessing which was something that I’d never received before.
MORRIS: For The World I’m Ruth Morris in Miami.
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