MIAMI , Florida – News of American contractor Alan Gross’ release and the administration’s change to U.S. policy toward Cuba has swept through the streets of Little Havana.
Gross was arrested in Cuba in 2009 while working in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access, which bypassed local restrictions and monitoring.
Cuban-Americans flocked to Cafe Versailles, a political hotspot, on Wednesday to have Cuban coffee with a side of political discourse.
“It’s a good thing that they freed Alan Gross. He is a patriot,” said Cuban-American Gonzalo Lopez.
But some worry the liberty they seek for Cuba will never become a reality now that the Obama Administration has brokered renewed diplomatic relations with the communist island.
“Obama is a traitor. A traitor a todos los Cubanos,” said Josie Rodriguez who was at Versailles.
Rodriguez broke down in tears thinking of the home she left behind almost 47 years ago.
“My heart is Cuban. My friends, they come to Miami to visit and they ask, ‘Josie why don’t you forget Cuba?’ I cannot forget Cuba. I love Cuba from the bottom of my heart.”
While they are happy with Gross’ release, some say the U.S. got a raw deal.
“It will just make the dictatorship more powerful while the United States is gaining absolutely nothing. It’s just a very naive thing,” said Jose Sanchez Gronlier.
But not everyone is balking at the announcement.
“There are some people stuck in the past. The younger ones don’t really know what happened to them. There’s a divide,” said Miguel Barrero.
“I think that it’s positive in a way. We need to be patient and see what is coming,” said Jose Irarragorri.
Irarragorri’s parents still live in Cuba. He moved here 10 years ago. He said it was time for change.
“If we don’t try and we keep going for another 50 years it will be the same. I think it’s time for a new era,” said Irarragorri.
At the time of Gross’s arrest, he was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government’s U.S. Agency for International Development, which promotes democracy on the island. Cuba considers USAID’s programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Even though the administration is adamant Gross was released by Cuba on humanitarian grounds and not part of a swap, the three Cuban spies were also freed on Wednesday.
Officials argue Gross was not a spy and therefore would not be traded for Cubans who were. Instead, the release of the spies was a conciliatory move.
“For the last six years this administration has been negotiating with Cuba, everything in exchange for nothing. What have they done for the Cuban people?” said Lopez.
Along with Gross’ release came a change to U.S – Cuban policy and the Obama Administration’s announcement that it will restore diplomatic relations with Havana by opening up travel, trade and information between the two countries.
President Obama’s position is that isolating Cuba hasn’t worked.
Meantime, police were out in full force in Little Havana, ensuring everyone was safe as the news of the new foreign policy toward Cuba spreads and anger grows among many Cuban-Americans.
At one point, officers stepped in when tensions spiked between protestors and a man wearing an Obama t-shirt.
That man, Leandro Seoane, described the policy as the President’s crowning achievement.
“55 years of the same erroneous policy toward Cuba hasn’t solved anything. It’s time for a change,” Seoane told CBS4’s Lauren Pastrana.
A handful of protesters shouted Obama is a murderer and also called him a coward outside of Versailles.
Some called the re-establishing of diplomatic ties with Cuba a betrayal.
“I personally feel it would be a betrayal of him and what he left Cuba for,” said Edwin Gonzalez .
“How about we ask the people who are persecuted in Cuba, the Ladies In White, the political prisoners. Ask them what they think about sanctions in Cuba. Every single one of them will tell you that they are in support of sanctions in Cuba,” said Cuban-American Bobby Sanchez.
Others though, see the opening up of Cuba as a benefit to the Cuban people and that the focus shouldn’t be on past wrongs.
“They are too stuck on what they went through, what they suffered, that they feel the need to feel vindication for their struggle out of defeat of the regime and that trumps the more important, lofty aspiration of the Cuban people for the years to come,” said Cuban-American Jorge Davila.
“I came to this country too to have a better life. I would have not come to this country if I had a better life in Cuba. Guess what, now the Cuban people might have a better life and may not have to leave the country,” said Cuban-American Sebastian Paris.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado welcomed protesters to come to Versailles. He said the U.S. is negotiating with a terrorist nation and got little in return for the change in policy.
“There’s no request for free speech. There’s no request for freedom of political prisoners. There’s no request for a democratic election and that is what the embargo was supposed to do,” said Regalado.
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