Cuban Exiles at Miami Rally Denounce Obama for Rapprochement – New York Times

Evelio Ordonez, 69, at a demonstration in Miami on Saturday against President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with the Cuban government.
By NICK MADIGAN
December 20, 2014

MIAMI — The simmering rage that Cuban exiles have shown in recent days against opening diplomatic relations with the Communist government in Cuba poured out in a rally here on Saturday during which President Obama was denounced unsparingly as a traitor and a liar.

Surrounded by Cuban flags flapping in the hot afternoon sun, several hundred protesters loudly excoriated the president in Spanish for his overture to the Cuban government after more than half a century of embargo and political stalemate, a move that they insisted would only cement the Castros’ hold on power.

“The government in Cuba will still repress and throw into jail anyone who opposes the Castro regime,” said Blanca Gonzalez, 65, who moved to the United States 13 years ago and whose son, Normando Hernandez, spent seven years in a Cuban prison for, she said, “practicing independent journalism.” He was freed in 2011.

Many Cuban exiles here have always held an ardent and implacable opposition to any hint of rapprochement with the Castro government. This week’s announcements from Mr. Obama and the Cuban president, Raúl Castro, have revived in stark fashion the resentments of these exiles, many of whom now feel utterly betrayed by the government of their adopted land.

“All Obama is doing is throwing a lifeline to the Castros so that they can continue crushing the people of Cuba,” said Roberto Delgado Ramos, 78, who said he was arrested twice, in 1960 and 1964, for “counterrevolutionary activities” and served a total of 12 years in prison. “The Castros are the ones who need to pay for the blood that they have spilled.”

Many of the demonstrators in José Martí Park — named after a Cuban hero of the island’s struggle for independence from Spain in the 19th century — took issue also with an exchange of prisoners between the two countries.

“I wasn’t surprised that the Obama administration wanted to adopt a policy of appeasement with the Castro government, because that’s what they’ve been doing with the rest of our enemies throughout the world,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who was elected last month to represent Florida’s 26th District in the House of Representatives. Mr. Curbelo’s parents were born in Cuba.

A former member of Florida’s congressional delegation, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Republican, said that in his announcement on Wednesday Mr. Obama had “deliberately given the impression” that he had lifted the embargo against Cuba — in effect since 1960, and codified into law — “so that the rest of the world invests in Cuba.” Mr. Diaz-Balart said the president had chosen to back the Cuban government now because Venezuela, which has been providing monetary and material support to Cuba for years, could no longer afford to do so.

While some younger Cuban-Americans — many of them born in the United States and only distantly connected to the land of their ancestors — have expressed the view that it was high time for a different political approach to Cuba, a rigid doctrine animates the old guard, many of whom had their properties seized by the Communists after their takeover in 1959 and whose careers and livelihoods were decimated.

And yet some observers of the dynamics of Cuban life in exile have concluded that intransigence serves no purpose, and that elected officials’ defiance in the face of Mr. Obama’s initiative is misguided.

“Much of the opposition is a knee-jerk reaction to change that plays to their political constituencies in Florida, especially the older generation,” said Bruce M. Bagley, a professor at the University of Miami whose specialty is United States-Latin America relations and who has visited Cuba on nine occasions.

While many of the exiles have good cause to be deeply upset with the Castros, Professor Bagley said, their anger has produced nothing tangible to alter the situation in Cuba.

“It is a visceral hatred on their part,” he said. “They lost their country, their property, their family status. This is what has motivated them since 1959, and it drives them still. They are impermeable on this. They simply cannot be reasoned with. Fifty-four years of failure doesn’t faze them a bit — their hatred remains alive and burning.”

At Saturday’s protest, Anitere Flores, a Florida state senator whose parents were born in Cuba, said from the stage: “If the United States doesn’t stand for freedom, then who does? What were all those lives lost for?”

Watching her was Félix Rodríguez Mendigutia, the president of the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, who took part in the failed C.I.A.-led effort to topple Fidel Castro in 1961. The reopening of diplomatic ties to Cuba, he said, was “a betrayal of the people of Cuba.”

“Obama hasn’t talked about stopping the repression,” he said. “Not only that, but the prisoner swap tells any terrorist group around the world that they can capture an American and that he can be exchanged for any terrorist they want.”

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