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Florida’s Cuban Immigrants Reflect On U.S.-Cuba Relations A Year After Fidel Castro’s Death

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Pablo de los Santos spent four years living alone in Florida before he was able to bring his wife to come live with him. Now the only thing he waits for is the day to be reunited with his daughters.

“I am not worried about my American Dream, only that of my daughters,” Santos said.

De los Santos is a Cuban immigrant living in Gainesville and his stories parallels that of many other Cuban immigrants. These immigrants ventured to the United States to escape the communist regime Fidel Castro brought upon the island after the Cuban Revolution.

Pablo de los Santos and his wife, Xiomara, are anxious to bring their daughters over. Their daughters’ immigration process has come to halt since the sonic attacks on the U.S. diplomats in the embassy in Cuba. (Claudia Perez Brito/WUFT News)

De los Santos said the task of bringing his daughters has now gotten harder with, allegedly, the sonic attacks on the U.S. embassy in Havana. An incident has resulted in the reduction of staff in the embassy to only “emergency personnel,” according to an announcement by the State Department on Sept. 29, 2017.

Jorge Duany, professor of anthropology and director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University (FIU), said prior to Dec. 17, 2014, when President Obama and Raúl Castro announced they’d take steps to normalize relations between the two countries, U.S.-Cuba relations were stuck in a Cold War era. Now the “sonic attacks” have caused the U.S. government to retire 24 U.S. diplomats from the embassy in Cuba.

“That has led to a very quick and dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” Duany said.

Pablo de los Santos originally thought he’d have his daughters in the U.S. by Christmas but the situation has caused an indefinite pause on their arrival.

“I don’t care if I have to struggle,” de los Santos said. “The objective is to have them come, so they can build their lives. That’s what is fundamental to me.”

Pablo de los Santos’ daughters, Suni, 27, and Sarai, 25, are back in Cuba. De los Santos said it is difficult for them to make life decisions with the uncertainty of when they’ll be able to come to the U.S. (Photo courtesy of Pablo de los Santos.)

He said it’s difficult to not have certainty and it causes his daughters lives to be stagnant because they aren’t sure when they will be reunited.

Michael Bustamante, an assistant professor of Latin American History at FIU, said the decreasing number of personnel in both the U.S. embassy in Cuba and Cuba’s embassy in Washington D.C. also makes it harder for Cubans to go back to Cuba. In most cases Cubans have to go back with a Cuban passport even if they are U.S. citizens, so the decrease in personnel is going to affect Cuban Americans that go back, in case they need to renew a passport.

“It’s going to create a real impediment on this side of the Florida Straits – so to speak – for those Cubans that want to go back to visit,” Bustamante said. “Sometimes waiting for a passport renewal could take six months as it was and now it’s kind of up in the air as to how the embassy is going to handle that.”

Peter Yñigo, co-owner of Mi Apá Latin Café in Gainesville, said he goes back to Cuba often because he has some family there and most of his wife’s family still lives there. Yñigo is permitted to enter Cuba because he falls under one of the 12 categories permitted by the Office of Foreign Assets Control for travel to Cuba. He said he now has to attain a visa to travel there.

Peter Yñigo, who arrived in the U.S. in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift, said he goes to Cuba often to visit family. Yñigo co-owns the popular Mi Apá Latin Café in Gainesville. (Claudia Perez Brito/WUFT News)

Yñigo immigrated to the U.S. when he was a child in 1980 during the Mariel boatlift. He remembers traveling to a different town and having to wait to be called to finally board the lobster boat that was going to take them to South Florida.

“I remember eating an apple for the first time. I remember drinking a 7Up for the first time,” Yñigo said.

He said that the boat’s captain drove them directly into the Miami River behind the old offices of the Miami Herald. All the immigrants on the boat were then driven to the Orange Bowl, an outdoor stadium that used to be in Little Havana, where they could shower, sleep and eat.

“I remember going into this football field–I’d never seen a field that big—and they’d emptied two truckloads of balls into the stadium, so I was in heaven from day one that I experienced this country,” Yñigo said.

One of the reason he visits his home country is so that his children get an opportunity to see how lucky they are to live in a place like the U.S.

Although Yñigo said he has had a positive experience living in the U.S. and being able to travel back to Cuba, he sees that older generations aren’t too eager to visit their home country. His father has no intention of ever visiting Cuba.

“My father, he sees it as ‘I put my family at risk to go through this ocean and this country is giving me all the opportunities that that country never gave me, so until things don’t completely change, I have nothing there’ and I can see that,” Yñigo said.  “I understand him.”

Annia Cuesta with her two sons, Alan, 11, and Adrian, 13, in their home in Miami. Cuesta didn’t want to have kids in Cuba, she wanted her sons to grow up in a country where they would have the freedom and opportunities she lacked growing up. (Claudia Perez Brito/WUFT News)

Annia Cuesta, a high school teacher in Miami, seems to share a similar sentiment over her homeland. She came to the U.S. in 1999 after leaving her family behind in Cuba to live with an uncle she had never met.

“Cuba in my opinion is a prison surrounded by water,” Cuesta said. “Nobody can get in and nobody can get out, unless they give you permission.”

When Castro’s death was announced last year on Sep. 25, 2016, she remembers some people had mixed emotions about it. While she saw some celebrate, she also saw other people saying Castro was still a human being.

“Sometimes people forget what a human being like he did. Even though he was old, we shouldn’t forget because at some point he was young and he took advantage of his position,” she said.

Duany said the current changes in diplomatic relations, most currently the “sonic attacks”, seem to point to the idea that relations between the two countries will not be progressing forward in the near future.

“It looks like the relations between the two countries will be very difficult to sustain and clearly they have gone back to — or even worse – before Dec. 17, 2014.”

About Claudia Perez Brito

Claudia is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-458-4434 or emailing cperezbrito@ufl.edu.

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