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How does diplomatic reconciliation affect Cuban-Americans? – Part 3

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    Well, today's momentous developments toward Cuba touches deep emotional cores, especially within the Cuban-American community, which includes some two million people. It's the third largest Hispanic group in the U.S.

    Joining us now to discuss these issues, Ana Carbonell. She's a Cuban-American political strategist and activist. She joins us from Miami. And Maria de los Angeles Torres, she's a Cuban-born American and a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She's also executive director of its program on Latino research.

    We welcome both of you.

    To Maria de los Angeles Torres first.

    What do you think this change is going to mean for the American people, especially for the Cuban-American community in this country?

    MARIA DE LOS ANGELES TORRES, University of Illinois at Chicago: Well, I think that there is — first of all, I think that this is a step in the right direction.

    I think that it will mean that there is a glimmer of hope that a transition in Cuba can be peaceful. I think for many Cuban-Americans, we're really in tune with what is going on in Cuba. It is a very precarious situation. It is economically precarious and politically precarious.

    And because of the world economic situation, it is worse. That doesn't necessarily translate into peaceful transitions. What it translates into is a potential for repression. I think that this policy recognizes that it is a situation that can be very dangerous.

    And, so from my perspective, I think many Cuban-Americans understand that and see that there is a need to make some kind of move that at least provides a glimmer of hope.


    Ana Carbonell, a glimmer of hope here?

  • ANA CARBONELL, Cuban-American Activist:

    Look, what the Cuban-American community understands and, more importantly, the Cubans on the island, is that the president today equated the Cuban people with the regime.

    And that's most unfortunate, because it's a profound divorce from a history of bipartisan support with the Cuban people's aspiration to be free. And it's critical that, at this moment in Cuba's history, when we see countless pro-democracy leaders on the island, they're risking their lives daily for freedom and democracy, for the U.S. government, especially for the White House, to stand with the Cuban people.

    And, today, by the president's actions, unilateral concessions with that regime, he basically told the international community that the United States is willing to recognize the legitimacy of a regime that has oppressed the Cuban people for over 50 years. And that is profoundly sad, because we're at a critical moment in Cuba's transition for democracy, and legitimizing that regime undermines the efforts of those who are fighting for change on the island.


    I want to ask both of you about what this means for families, Cuban-American families in this country, families that have been divided over what's happened between the U.S. and Cuba.

    Maria Torres, how do you see that from your own perspective?


    I think that people are tired of the family divisions. People travel. They vote with their feet. They actually travel. They send money to their relatives.

    I think that this policy says it's important to engage family to family. So I think that it does recognize that, despite the rhetoric of many of the elected officials, what is actually happening on the ground here is people are helping their families. They are building small businesses. Those small businesses will be part of the support, if you will, for transition in Cuba.

    And, by the way, most dissidents in Cuba want this to happen, because they understand that as long as the United States is — can be used as the excuse for the Cuban government to stay in power, that is — that can be very dangerous. And so they actually support the lifting of an embargo. They support diplomatic relations because it puts the ball in their court.


    That is that is completely not correct, and I couldn't disagree with you more.

    I could rattle off a list of countless pro-democracy leaders on the island, from the Ladies in White, to Jose Daniel Ferrer, to Jorge Luis Garcia Perez Antunez, who have told this administration, have told Congress now is not the time, because we need to remind the international community that Cuba is not a democracy.

    And no one here is arguing as to divisions of Cuban families. Cubans in exile and Cubans on the island are united. The only division in Cuba is the Castro regime that uses oppression and violence and harassment to maintain control. And that's what's at stake here.


    Let me…


    The Castro brothers are not going to be a permanent fixture in Cuba's reality. And U.S. policy reminds the world that Cuba needs to transition towards democracy. And, today, the president's measures undermines that effort.


    Let me — I do want to try to get to this family question with each of you, if I could.

    If I could just ask each one of you, starting with you, Maria Torres, in your own family's case, what has this meant to your family, the division that's been taking place over the last more than 50 years?


    Well, I'm a product of a policy from this end, by the way, that brought children over and divided families.

    I was also a product from the other end of a government that didn't allow us to reunite with our families. We have had families spread out through both sides of the Florida Straits, and we still have families. And it has been at times very difficult to help them. It has gotten easier in the last few years. Their lives are better.

    It has not made them pro-regime. It has made them more pro-U.S., and it has been able — it has allowed for families to actually come together. The animosity that used to exist before the Carter administration is an animosity — animosity that's gone. It's gone. I mean, people realize that they need to work together.


    Ana Carbonell, what about in your case, in your own family? How is it dealt with, the division? Did your — did your — tell me about your parents and your grandparents.


    My parents came in the 1960s. My father was part of the Bay of Pigs. I have had political prisoners in my family. I have seen the repression on the island until today. I maintain contact with those that are advocating peacefully for pro-democracy.

    And what's sad about this is the effort to try to propagate this misnomer about divisions among Cubans. The reality is that there is a total consensus. And no measure of American tourism or investment on the part of American businesses is — will encourage or convince the Cuban people that the regime is bad.

    The Cuban people are the victims of that regime. They have seen firsthand. They don't need anyone telling them, because they have lived it through the 55 years of this totalitarian system. What's at stake here is, what do we want for the future of Cuba? Do we want a China model that perpetuates the slavery of the Cuban people, or do we want to leverage U.S. foreign policy, leverage the strength of American solidarity to insist that the future of Cuba deserves to be in a multiparty system, where the Cuban people on the island are free to self — to have the right to self-determination?

    Why do they not deserve that?


    Well, it may be a newly announced policy, but it clearly has not slowed down the debate at all.

    We want to thank both of you for talking to us, Ana Carbonell, Maria de los Angeles Torres, we thank you.


    Thank you.


    Thank you.

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