It's MORNING EDITION from NPR
News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
And I'm David Greene in Miami. We
came here after a trip to Cuba. We visited the island now to try and understand
how it's been evolving and what impact, if any, the changes have meant in
people's lives. But one big change is actually playing out right here in Miami.
We're going to talk about with NPR's Greg Allen who's based here. And I have
the pleasure of sitting right next to him a park bench. Greg, it's good to see
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So we're in a
neighborhood called Little Havana. Help us understand exactly what this place
ALLEN: Right, well, this was the
neighborhood that was first settled by Cubans when they came to America, even
before the Cuban revolution. In more recent years, though, many Cubans live, of
course, throughout the entire state of Florida. This has remained, though, a
cultural touchstone for Cuban-Americans. As you go up and down the street you
see plenty of coffee shops - agencies where you can send money directly to Cuba
- also botanicas, the little shops that have herbal remedies and religious
paraphernalia. It's got a real feel, here, of Cuba.
GREENE: It does. I mean having
just been in Havana, it's amazing how familiar it is. And you and I are
actually sitting in a park looking at a huge map of Cuba, if we needed any help
with the geography. But as important as the connections are - as important as
Cuban culture is here, it's important to remember that a lot of people here in
these neighborhoods around us, for a long time never traveled to the island
even though it's so close.
ALLEN: Right, for many years -
you had people who had arrived here, say, in the 1960s, and they wouldn't go
back at all - refused to go back to the dictatorship, for one reason. Also, it
was difficult. In recent years, though, we've had - the administration in
Washington has lifted most of the restrictions on travel. So for
Cuban-Americans, you can go to Cuba as much as you want. Also, even more
surprisingly, we've had the Cuban government lift restrictions on their
citizens in recent years. So now, for the first time, we've got Cubans
traveling freely from the island - coming here and going back - coming on
shopping trips and going back. You see it every day at Miami's airport.
ALLEN: Right, I mean, traveling
to Cuba was really controversial here for Cuban-Americans until fairly
recently. Let me play you some tape from a news report from a TV station here
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Travel agents
say that it was set on fire overnight, and investigators believe this was no
ALLEN: And David, that was just
two years ago. A travel agency run by Vivian Mannerud that operated charter
flights to Cuba was firebombed. Investigators confirmed it was arson.
VIVIAN MANNERUD: It was sobering,
but it was right after we had finished the papal visit.
ALLEN: Police still haven't made
any arrests. Mannerud is convinced, though, that the firebombing was connected
with work she did with Miami's Catholic archdiocese, helping fly some 600
people to Cuba to attend a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict the 16th.
MANNERUD: And we had taken many
Cuban-Americans - many who had said they would never go back to Cuba - many
prominent Cuban-Americans, many wealthy Cuban-Americans. There was a part of
the community that was very upset that all these people went to Cuba for the
ALLEN: Many see that papal visit
as a turning point. Some prominent Cuban-American businessmen, long opposed to
any opening to Cuba, planned return trips and began supporting economic and
civic engagement. The most prominent was Alfonso Fanjul, billionaire head of
At Miami's airport, the charter
flights that leave daily for Havana are mostly filled with Cubans returning
home after a visit and Cuban-Americans who have arrived in recent decades. But
you also find Cuban-Americans, like Irene Ruiz, who left Cuba nearly 50 years
IRENE RUIZ: I get out in 1966,
and I back in '96 or '97.
ALLEN: It's a familiar story.
After being away for decades, in recent years many members of that first
generation of Cuban-American exiles have been returning to their native land.
RUIZ: You have family, and then
you need your family. You need that love - your family. And then I decide to go
and see my family.
ALLEN: Changing attitudes toward
Cuba also showing up in polls of Cuban-Americans. Support for the embargo is
dropping. A majority of Cuban-Americans in South Florida now support
unrestricted travel - also talks in trade between the U.S. and Cuba. Tomas Bilbao
is with the Cuba Study Group, an organization founded by Cuban-American
businessmen who favor engagement with the island. With the upswing travel, he
believes Cuban-Americans are voting with their feet.
TOMAS BILBAO: And let me just be
clear. I don't think anyone's saying that we need to reward the Cuban regime. I
think that what we need to do is focus on helping the Cuban people, even if
that provides a benefit to the Cuban regime.
ALLEN: But there are still many
Cuban Americans uneasy with the relaxed travel restrictions. They include
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: There are
people that come here, and six months after they arrive - a year and half after
they arrive, they're going back to Cuba 18 times a year. And I'm telling you,
that's a problem.
ALLEN: That's Rubio speaking last
year to U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC, a lobbying group that takes a hard line
against any move to weaken sanctions on Cuba. Relaxed travel restrictions now
allow Cuban entrepreneurs to travel back and forth, ferrying goods and
remittances between Miami and Havana, which Rubio says helps the Castro regime.
To counter that, he says the U.S. may want to revisit the special status Cubans
have long enjoyed as political refugees.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
RUBIO: People all over the
country are turning to us and saying, well, why do you have a Cuban Adjustment
Act? Cuban Adjustment Act exists for people that are refugees and exiles and
that - of course there are refugees and exiles from Cuba. But if you're going
back 18 times a year, we have to deal with that issue. That's a problem.
ALLEN: Under the Cuban Adjustment
Act, after being here for a year Cubans receive permanent residency status and
become eligible for government benefits, ranging from supplemental social
security income to disability. Maurice Claver-Carone of U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC
says there's evidence that some Cuban migrants are abusing their special
status, qualifying for government benefits here and spending the money in Cuba.
MAURICE CLAVER-CARONE: In a
country where the average salary is $18 a month, which is Cuba, you know, $200
per month is 10 times that. So you live comfortably in Cuba. So people are
making the decision - hey, we essentially can live off the government here,
but, you know, essentially living most of our time in Cuba.
ALLEN: And David, there has been
some talking in Congress about amending the Cuban Adjustment Act to
differentiate between political refugees and those who come here for economic
GREENE: Alright, NPR's Greg Allen
with that report. We're sitting together in the little Havana neighborhood of
Miami. And, you know any changes to the law I can imagine Greg, probably a
pretty sensitive topic.
ALLEN: Right, I mean when you
talk about Miami's Cuban Americans, you're talking about a very important
voting bloc in the nation's largest swing state. So changes will be done very
carefully if at all.
GREENE: All right that's the view
of Cuba from Florida. I want to bring in one other voice here and it's the
voice of the person sitting to your left on the park bench here Greg. Jasmine
Garsd, our colleague who hosts NPR music's alt Latino and was the interpreter
for our trip to Cuba. And Jasmine, you and I talked a lot during the trip about
what you thought of Cuba growing up in Argentina. It had a resonance that's
different than the one that's sort of Americans are familiar with. Explain to
me what you're talking about.
JASMINE GARSD, BYLINE: Sure
absolutely. Well I think it's important to understand that Latin America has a
really different relationship with Cuba than the U.S. does. There's definitely
a romantic vision of Cuba, a vision of Cuba as a paradise island, some of that
is based in certain facts, I mean it is pretty impressive in a Latin American
country to have achieved literacy and college education rates like Cuba has,
universal healthcare. And there's definitely I think a sense in Latin America
of Cuba as romantically feisty, you know, of a nation that was at some point
exploited by foreign interests like so much of Latin America is and stood up
for themselves. Of course, you know that vision is counterbalanced by directors
who make legitimate points out human rights abuses, freedom of speech, all
valid points. But there's definitely a very different perspective about Cuba in
GREENE: Different perspective.
OK, you grew up with that different perspective. Now that you've been for the
first time what are your impressions?
GARSD: I think a lot of the great
things I heard about Cuba are true. There is universal health. As we saw people
are so educated on that island.
GARSD: But they're also
struggling with serious human rights issues. They're struggling with access to
information; I mean we meet these highly educated people that don't have access
to the Internet. So, I would just say some things are just so wonderful and
some things are so disappointing. It's a complex story.
GREENE: All right, NPR's Jazmine
Garsd and NPR's Greg Allen. Thank you both so much.
ALLEN: My pleasure.
GARSD: Thank you.
GREENE: We're sitting on a park
bench in Little Havana, also sitting here - NPR's Nick Fountain, who did the
fine production work for our trip to Cuba. You're listening to MORNING EDITION
from NPR News.
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