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For Cuban-Americans, A Mixture Of Hope, Betrayal


In Miami, many Cuban-Americans are still in shock after this week's abrupt shift in U.S. relations with Cuba. NPR's Greg Allen found that beyond shock, there's no single word that can describe the range of emotions in the community.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Michael Mendez is a third-generation Cuban-American and, like his father and grandparents, fiercely opposed to the Castro regime. His reasons are personal. His father, Carlos Costa, was one of four Cuban-Americans killed when their two planes were shot down by the Cuban Air Force in 1996. The men were flying a mission for an anti-Castro group, Brothers to the Rescue. Mendez said the decision to engage with the Castro regime is one that, for his grandparents, is heartbreaking.

MICHAEL MENDEZ: Today, how they probably look back and feel embarrassed and shocked and hurt because all the sacrifices they made, and that it was all turned around by a weak leadership of Pres. Obama.

ALLEN: Along with anger, some Cuban-Americans met Obama's announcement with another reaction - denial.

LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART: Pres. Obama's infamous attempt to help the Castro regime is, to a great extent, a lot of splash, but not that much cash.

ALLEN: Lincoln Diaz-Balart is another with a personal connection to the 50-year-plus struggle to return democracy to Cuba. His father was a Cuban politician who fled the island after Fidel Castro took power. As a member of Congress, Diaz-Balart helped write much of the legislation that codified sanctions against the Castro regime. No matter how the Obama administration designs the new regulations, Diaz-Balart says, it won't overwrite the stringent laws that are in place.

DIAZ-BALART: That's why mass U.S. tourism - the credits of the entire American free enterprise system and the financing the company's U.S. investment - that's why, despite Pres. Obama wishes, he cannot offer it to the Castros.

ALLEN: Others see it differently.

PEDRO FREYRE: I woke up, and the world changed.

ALLEN: Pedro Freyre is an expert on the law governing the embargo. He's an attorney in Miami who left Cuba with his family when he was 11 years old. He says his firm has been fielding calls from Fortune 50 companies looking to do business in Cuba. But he says there are still a lot of unknowns while the Treasury Department writes new regulations, and the trade embargo, though loosened, remains in place.

FREYRE: It's not that the opportunities are there right now, but now they're on the horizon.

ALLEN: Over the last decade in Miami, attitudes have changed in the Cuban-American community. It shows up in polls, with the majority now favoring lifting travel and trade restrictions. Vivian Mannerud has seen it firsthand. She books charter flights and has taken many Cuban-American groups back to the island.

VIVAN MANNERUD: And they say, you know, I don't want my parents to know that I'm going, but I have to go. I want to see my cousins. I want to see my birthplace. I wanted to see my heritage.

ALLEN: Much of it is generational, and in Miami, the first wave of exiles - those who came from Cuba as adults in 1960s - have largely passed from the scene. That generation's children are now in their 50s and 60s, and many, like attorney Pedro Freyre, believe it's time to move on.

FREYRE: You can never forget injustices. You can never forget grievances that are not redressed. You also have to understand that there is a time and place to move forward for the greater good.

ALLEN: It's a point of view that 20 years ago would've been unthinkable, but now one that many Cuban-Americans share. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.