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The Cuban community in Raleigh stands divided behind current events
It’s been 85 years since a sitting American president visited the island nation of Cuba and like those watching around the country, Raleigh’s Cuban community is showing mixed feelings about the changes it could bring.
“The changes are beginning to take place right now,” says Vicente Vila, a Cary resident who left the country in May 1964. He and his daughter, Anita Vila-Parrish who lives in Raleigh, traveled to Cuba in March of this year.
“You hear so much about things changing in Cuba and I felt like I wanted to go while I could witness the transition,” says Vila-Parrish.
The two are in favor of the relaxed travel restrictions that have taken place over the last few years between the U.S. and Cuba. In 2015, 150,000 Americans went to Cuba, up from 91,000 in 2014. With more travelers, the country can benefit from spending at restaurants, clubs, and for services like taxis and hotel rooms. It also means an exchanging of ideas.
“Cubans are beginning to see Americans and American mentality,” says Vila.
On-island Cubans have had very little exposure to the U.S., something that could change faster as more travelers interact with the local population. Increased economic activity may sound good at the surface but Cubans from a generation who’ve watched the Castro regime come to power are not entirely convinced.
“All Cubans who left carry pain,” says Hernando Ovies, an engineer living in Cary who left Cuba in September 1961. Indeed, watching a government benefit from open borders, that decades ago, took away entire savings accounts and tore apart families gives reason for pause.
Many in the Cuban community are angered over Castro’s grip on political and economic freedoms, enforcing and shutting down opposition through beatings, shaming, imprisonment and, in some cases, public execution.
The repression still continues today. The Cuban government imprisoned 8,600 political activists in 2015 according to a report by the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
However, the cross-pollination of American and Cuban cultures may cool a once heated relationship between the two countries.
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