MIAMI– For decades, Cuban exiles in Miami’s Little Havana have gathered at the Versailles Cafe to talk about the home they’d left behind and the Castro regime that forced them to escape.
On Wednesday, the mood among many of the regulars was very testy.
They’d just heard that President Barack Obama had secured the release of detained U.S. contractor Alan Gross, but it had come at what they considered a steep and unwelcome price: the release of three Cuban intelligence agents convicted of espionage in 2001, and a sweeping change in America’s diplomatic approach toward its communist neighbor.
“I think people are going to be upset,” said John Losada, who’s been an exile since the 1960s. “There is a long history here of people who have a lot of anger, people who have been hurt.”
Two men shouted angrily, “Obama a coward! Coward, coward, coward!” They held up signs that read: “Obama administration conspiracy with Castro terrorist.”
A crowd of customers continued to get their morning coffee at the open counter that faces Calle Ocho, a street that has for many decades come to symbolize the Cuban community in the city. Some drivers honked as they passed.
Easing relations with Cuba would feel like a “betrayal,” Felix Gonzalez told CNN. The 76-year-old Cuban-American immigrated to the U.S. in 1961. “I don’t trust the Castro government,” he said. “I will never.”
But the reaction was split among generational lines.
While those who had fled Cuba when Fidel Castro was in charge took the change in policy as a disappointing blow after 50-plus years of frustration, some of those who were born and grew up in the United States said this was just another chapter in the saga.
Fidel’s brother Raul Castro is now President of Cuba.
“The older generation still retain this idea that they’re going to go back to a non-Castro Cuba. That they’re going to reclaim Cuba,” said CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “The younger generation don’t harbor those fantasies.
“The issues were so much caught up with the Cold War. All that is gone. Finally, in a sense, we’re catching up with what the reality is.
“There is an alternate strategy that more contact, more commerce will have the effect of softening, opening up the regime.”
But Miguel Saavedra, another exile, said that’s not what many Cuban-Americans want.
He said that “70% of the Cuban exiles, they don’t support business to Cuba.”
CNN analyst Ana Navarro said she found it “disrespectful and unilateral” that the White House didn’t consult with Congress first. Navarro spent a large part of her career condemning rights violations in Cuba.
“They’ve been a thorn on our side, anything other than an ally,” she said. “I will not give one penny of my money to a regime that violates human rights.”
Obama will make an announcement at noon ET, outlining the exact changes.