Some oppose ‘economic door’ reopening to Cuba
UPDATED 7:21 PM CDT Apr 24, 2015
NEW ORLEANS — When President Barack Obama announced his efforts to
normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba last December, reaction came
fast and furious.
Many quickly came out in support the president’s desire to lift the
50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba. Others were just as quick with
strong and vocal opposition to any such move as long as either Fidel or
Raul Castro remains in power.
In March, WDSU traveled with about 80 local business and civic leaders
on an historic fact finding trip to Cuba — most of the group was in
support of the reopening of the economic door to the island nation.
However, in New Orleans, that sentiment is far from unanimous.
One of the key hurdles to diplomatic relations with Cuba, and lifting
the trade embargo, is removing the communist nation from the terrorism
watch list, where it has been for 33 years.
That doesn’t sit well at all with many Cubans in this area who don’t
want to see America doing business with a country run by a brutal dictator.
“Do you think because they going to have relationship with the United
States, they going to have something? They not going to have anything,”
said Jose Nieto, the owner of Churro’s Café in Metairie.
For Nieto, long standing feelings run deep.
“What they are going to do is they are going to make rich the bad
government, and the people are going to stay like it is. Like a slave.
Living like a slave.”
Nieto came to America more than 40 years ago. He spent 20 years as a
welder before opening Churro’s Cafe, one of a handful of authentic Cuban
restaurants in the Greater New Orleans area.
The cafe does a thriving lunch business. Food served hot from the
kitchen, along with a side of conversation that of late has gotten a bit
hotter, too. Thanks to Obama’s push to open the diplomatic door between
the two countries.
“Do you think the American people have something magical to change over
there? No. They don’t have anything,” Nieto points out matter of factly.
A bit more emotion surfaces when you sit down with New Orleans attorney
George Fowler, a leading member of the Cuban American National Foundation.
“We’re going to lift the embargo, everything is going to be great in
Cuba. We’re going to go smoke cigars in Cuba. But it’s baloney and
Obama knows it.”
Few speak more passionately against Fidel Castro and against lifting the
embargo. For decades, Fowler has fought to bring Fidel Castro to
justice for crimes against humanity.
In his book, “My Cuba Libre: Bringing Fidel Castro to Justice,” Fowler
lays out his attempts over the years to have Castro indicted and brought
“It’s murder. It’s murder,” said Fowler. “There is no statute of
limitations, and so I am going to try it again, you know, with whoever
becomes president. I’ve tried it with every president.”
But Obama fully intends to see Cuba removed from the American
government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism. That would
eliminate one of the major obstacles in the restoration of diplomatic
Both Fowler and Nieto remain convinced Cuba and Castro continue to pose
a real terrorist threat to the U.S. right now.
“Cuba is the worst terrorist country in the world, in the whole world,”
Nieto said. “Cuba. He (Fidel Castro) control. He protect. He help
terrorists in the world. And the United States know.”
In journalism, the goal is to always get both sides of the story. But
Fowler adamantly maintains, “There are not two sides to this story.
There are not two sides to this story. You know, there’s right and
there’s wrong, and Castro is wrong, and what he has done to the Cuban
people, the threat he is to the American people is wrong.”
Many Cubans find a piece of home eating at Churro’s Cafe. One is Yadi
Benitez, who left Cuba 14 years ago and came to the U.S. Her father was
a Castro political prisoner released when President Bill Clinton pursued
improved relations with Castro and Cuba during his presidency.
Benitez believes for change to come to Cuba, the Castros must go.
“All the Castros that have been putting in Cuba since 1959, they need to
just eliminate it in order to be a change. If they’re still in power,
there will be no change.”
Yadi came to lunch at Churro’s immediately after completing all the
necessary requirements to become a citizen of the U.S. For her, talking
about Cuba and home is bittersweet.
“I still love Cuba because it is my home, but now I got a new home, and
it’s America,” Yadi said.
From his office in downtown New Orleans, Fowler is convinced that there
will be no diplomatic relations with Cuba until Fidel Castro dies.
“I have an idea of what his just reward ought to be, and it’s going to
be hot for him. He is behind everything,” Fowler said. “He’s the leader
No matter which side of the issue Cubans come down on, virtually all
want to see freedom in their country, like Yadi.
“We will enjoy our freedom one day. One day. I will love to be alive at
that moment for it to happen,” Yadi said.
Back at the busy lunch time business at Churro’s, Jose Nieto said it
will take time.
“It’s going to be years and years to change Cuba’s mentality,” Nieto
said. “Remember that.”
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