South Florida Reacts to US, Cuba Embassy Announcement

As the United States and Cuba agree to open embassies in each other's capitals, support among South Florida's Cuban community appears to be divided by generational lines.

President Barack Obama announced the agreement Wednesday at the White House. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is scheduled to open later this month, according to Associated Press reports. It represents the biggest tangible step in the countries' historic bid to restore ties after more than a half-century of hostilities.

The sentiment among South Florida's Cuban community varies. At Miami's Cafe Versailles, reaction has been mostly positive.

"We have to start the change, we have to," said Adachaa Bencomo. "It's not about the American government making the changes, it's the Cuban people that has to look for the freedom, for me it's great, it'll be great."

The move is not without criticism. Many policymakers in Washington say it's a bad move.

"It's all smoke and mirrors, nothing will change for the benefit of the American people," says Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "I'm sad for the Cuba people because nothing will change for them. In reality it's all charade, it's all a game."

Others see the move as a necessary step.

“I still distrust Castro, but we have to get that regime to open up, stop human rights abuses, and give the Cuban people their basic freedoms," Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement. "I think reopening the embassies is a necessary step in the long process toward achieving that goal.”

Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio has been openly critical of the thawing of relations between the US and Cuba. He echoed the same sentiments following Wednesday's announcement.

“Throughout this entire negotiation, as the Castro regime has stepped up its repression of the Cuban people, the Obama Administration has continued to look the other way and offer concession after concession," Rubio said in a statement.

Rubio added, "It remains unclear what, if anything, has been achieved since the President's December 17th announcement in terms of securing the return of U.S. fugitives being harbored in Cuba, settling outstanding legal claims to U.S. citizens for properties confiscated by the regime, and in obtaining the unequivocal right of our diplomats to travel freely throughout Cuba and meet with any dissidents, and most importantly, securing greater political freedoms for the Cuban people."

Rubio says he will oppose the confirmation of an Ambassador to Cuba until such issues are addressed.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush also said he was against the embassy decision.

"As Americans prepare to celebrate the anniversary of our freedom from tyranny and commit anew to the democratic principles on which our nation was founded, it is no small irony that President Obama prepares to open an Embassy in Havana, further legitimizing the brutal Castro regime," Bush said in a statement. “I oppose the decision to further embrace the Castro regime by opening an embassy in Havana. The real test of the Obama Administration’s rapprochement with the Castro regime in Cuba is not whether President Obama’s legacy is burnished with dubious diplomatic achievements and photo-ops, but whether improved relations between Havana and Washington advance the cause of human rights and freedom for the Cuban people. The ongoing detention of dissidents and continued human rights abuses suggest the Administration’s policy is failing this test."

In Little Havana, some are taking the wait-and-see approach, saying the move could be crucial in encouraging the Cuban government to address larger issues such as human rights.

"An open line of communication between Washington and Havana, which hopefully in this line of communications they can continue to discuss some topics that haven't been resolved up to now," said Andy Gomes.

Ricardo Herrero, with the advocacy group Cuba Now, feels an embassy in Havana will make a difference from the inside out.

"It makes it easier for us to promote our own values to promote human rights in the island and to basically do more to help see the sort of change that we would like to see in Cuba in a much more constructive way," Herrero said.

Others say they would have liked to have seen more guarantees from the Cuban government before the embassy agreement was made.

"Everyone is so eager and determined to change the atmosphere and dynamic that they're willing to sacrifice principles and policy to make a little bit of headway," said Juan O'Naghten.

Angie Villa, who said her father was held for years as a political prisoner by Fidel Castro, insists it's a bad idea.

"The essentials, the fundamentals that people are looking for, which are again being able to speak, freedom of speech all of those fundamental freedoms that people are looking for this is not going to change this is not going to do anything for the people," Villa said.

According to the Cuban Foreign Ministry and reports from the Associated Press, Havana and Washington will reopen embassies on July 20.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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