Exiles Ready Plans for Post-Castro Cuba

In the Miami area, each generation of Cuban-Americans has had its own plans for what to do if there's political change in Cuba. Fidel Castro's illness earlier this week, and his subsequent handing of power to his brother, brought many of those emotions and hopes to the surface.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Miami's Cuban-American community, celebrations broke out earlier this week with the news that Fidel Castro had handed over power, temporarily. Now the euphoria has given away to a cold realization that real change in Cuba may still be many years away.

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports that few Cuban-Americans are making plans to return to Cuba anytime soon.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

The streets have been cleared. The parties are long over. But Fidel Castro, his health, and the future of Cuba is, as ever, a prime topic of conversation in Miami.

Mr. BARNEY URANA (Miami Resident): Well, my personal opinion is Fidel is dead.

ALLEN: Barney Urana's opinion is one shared by many Cuban-Americans here. And some believe Fidel Castro's brother, Raul, is in hiding in fear of coup.

Miguel Ninn(ph) expresses another widely held belief.

Mr. MIGUEL NINN (Miami Resident): Nothing is going to change. And for the time being, I don't think nothing's going to change.

ALLEN: Urana and Ninn are part of the lunch/coffee crowd at La Carreta, a busy meeting spot for Cuban-Americans in Miami's Westchester neighborhood. It was a celebration that started here that shut down a major cross-town artery on Tuesday night.

Inside La Carreta's coffee bar, employees pour small cups of Cuban coffee. At the counter outside, customers gather for coffee and pastries, and as one man notes, to try to fix the world.

Barney Urana was one of many Cuban teenagers who came to the U.S. in the early 1960s as part of the operation Pedro Pan Airlift. And like many of that first generation of Cuban exiles, he hasn't been back.

Mr. URANA: I would like to visit my country, but this is my country right now. My children are here. They have grown up as a Cuban-American, both of them. This is their land.

ALLEN: Dario Moreno says that's one of the major differences between Cuban exiles who came to the U.S. in the 1960s and those who came in the 1990s or later. Moreno is an associate professor at Florida International University, who's long studied the Cuban community here. He says newcomers are much more likely to stay in touch with relatives in Cuba, sending money back and visiting whenever possible.

Professor DARIO MORENO (Florida International University): The people who have been here the longest are going to view Cuba in terms, maybe a place that I invest in. Older Cuban-Americans who were born in Cuba might look at Cuba as a place they might eventually retire to. Recent arrivals are the ones that are, I think, going to be in many ways the bridge between the exile community and Cubans in Cuba.

ALLEN: Eric Melina(ph) is one of those recent arrivals. He came over from Cuba in 1994. This week, he was at a celebration on Miami's Kyocho, with his 16-year-old daughter Lissette(ph). Even though she was only four when she left her homeland, she knows it well and has been back with her father to visit several times. For them, the possibility that Cuba may soon enter a post-Castro era has personal meaning.

Ms. LISSETTE MELINA (Miami Resident): We'll go back to our island whenever we want to. It's freedom. Freedom. That's what we want. Freedom.

Mr. ERIC MELINA (Miami Resident): Freedom! I'm American now. I'm American. But there is a girl who, what she say, it's my roots too. Then, if I want to go there, I go. I can come here again, I can go free. Free!

ALLEN: Dario Moreno says Fidel Castro's hand-over of power is another reminder that the generation that fought the Cuban Revolution, both the winners and the losers, are passing from the scene.

Among the next generation of leaders in Havana and in Miami, Moreno says there's more flexibility and less personal animosity. And that, he says, will ultimately be the key to better relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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