Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Some Cuban Exiles Give Up the Wait

From the Los Angeles Times
Some Cuban Exiles Give Up the Wait
Even if the Castro regime falls, there are expatriates entrenched in Miami who no longer seek to recapture their old lives on the island.
By Miguel Bustillo
Times Staff Writer

August 2, 2006

MIAMI — This city's voluble Cuban exiles, who have been on a collective Fidel Castro death watch for decades, shouted in the streets in a state of ecstasy Tuesday after the communist regime's surprising announcement that the charismatic caudillo had handed the reins of power to his brother.

Yet for many of the aging Cubans who came to the United States generations ago to flee Castro, the mood of exultation soon gave way to a sober realization: The dictator's long-awaited final hour will come too late for them to reclaim their lost lives.

Many Cuban exiles said they no longer harbored dreams of a glorious return home to open businesses and reclaim family properties in a free Cuba, as they did 10 or 20 years earlier. They are grounded in this country, their children are lifelong Americans, and they plan to stay.

"Why would I want to go to a country where I don't know anyone anymore, to a big house that needs hundreds of thousands of dollars of work?" asked Raquel Blizard, 70, whose aunt had willed to her a mansion, with a wrought iron veranda and ample servants' quarters, in Havana's once-fashionable Vedado neighborhood.

"My family, my husband and my children, they're all here now."

Calle Ocho, the heart of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, was flooded with exiles waving Cuban flags, dancing and honking horns in cacophonous celebration, after Castro's secretary went on television Monday evening and said Castro, 79, was temporarily ceding power to his brother Raul, 75.

Trucks blared the Cuban national anthem on loudspeakers, while anti-Castro activists in guayabera shirts joyously waved banners that declared, "The tyrant is dead."

"There is a tremendous amount of excitement," said Miami's Cuban-born Mayor Manny Diaz, as he mingled at Versailles restaurant, the epicenter of the exile community. "This is a totalitarian government that has destroyed families, and it may be coming to an end."

Yet many of the Cuban exiles standing along the street made it clear that although they held an inexorable hatred for Castro, and a profound hope that they could live to see their old country returned to freedom, they were Americans now.

"Some people will leave Miami for Cuba, and the real estate market will probably drop," if the Castro government falls, said Mario Torralbas, 72, a retired dentist who stopped by Calle Ocho to revel in the emotion of Tuesday's moment. "But I bet you within a year, those people will be back in Miami. It's going to be very hard to fix the mess this man has made."

The Cuban government emphasized that the transfer of power to Raul Castro was only temporary while Castro recovered from emergency surgery — and the White House said its intelligence sources believed Castro was indeed alive.

Nonetheless, many Cuban exiles used to parsing the propaganda of the communist regime were convinced that the bearded strongman, who reportedly had Parkinson's disease, was dead and that the decision to transfer power was an attempt to soften the blow to the Cuban people. (A statement from Fidel Castro, in which he claimed to be "stable" and said "as for my spirits, I feel perfectly fine" was read on Cuban television Tuesday.)

Some, such as Rodolfo Frometa, the director of the paramilitary group Comandos F-4, spoke of seizing the opportunity to foment a rebellion and reestablish a democracy.

"Many times, we have heard rumors suggesting that Castro was dead only to see him give a four-hour speech a week later. But this time, I am sure that he is gone," Frometa said. "If he had any air left in his lungs, he would have gone on Cuban television himself and read that paper explaining what was happening, because Fidel understands the power he has over the people."

Others voiced less radical plans of action and predicted that if Raul Castro is in charge, the Cuban government will collapse on its own. Raul Castro, they said, does not possess the political dexterity or mesmerizing rhetoric that made Fidel Castro the exiles' archenemy for nearly half a century.

"Raul can't handle this," said Javier Sotolon, who came to the U.S. as a teenager 13 years ago and who skipped out on his job as a cement mixer to attend the anti-Castro celebration.

"Fidel is one of a kind," he added, holding his index finger in the air for emphasis. "No one else can hold that country together."

Although some of the exiles are nostalgic about their country and restoring an idealized Cuban society, the passage of time has dulled those dreams for many.

Fifteen years ago, a Miami Herald poll showed that one-fifth of the region's Cuban exiles — a significant slab of the city's financial and cultural bedrock — planned to return to Cuba the minute Castro lost power.

A virtual government in exile of elite Cubans, established with strong support from former presidents Reagan and Bush, and led by influential businessman Jorge Mas Canosa, stood waiting for Castro's demise.

Miami leaders faced serious questions about what would happen to their city's economy if the Cuban immigrants who did so much to transform it from a swampy backwater into a world-class metropolis suddenly decided to leave.

But Mas Canosa is now dead, along with many other members of his purported government in exile, and Cuba experts question whether many of Miami's remaining first-generation Cubans really want to go home at this point. At most some say, only about 10% of South Florida's estimated 800,000 Cuban immigrants would have a serious interest.

Moreover, Miami is now a cosmopolitan gateway to Latin America, with immigrants from dozens of nations, and no longer depends so heavily on the Cuban exiles to power its diverse economy.

"The much more likely outcome is going to be mass migration to the United States, not the other way around," said Damian J. Fernandez, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

"But I really don't believe we will see a one-or-the-other scenario. We will find great fluidity across the straits, with people investing in both nations, and a return to the era of the 1920s, where these two areas where closely connected."

No comments: