While in Miami last week, I had breakfast with Joe Garcia, a prominent lawyer and former director of the Cuban American National Foundation, or CANF.
After we ate, Garcia gave me a quick tour. Among our stops: Woodlawn Park Cemetery. Garcia pointed out the graves of former Cuban President Carlos Prío Socarrás, CANF leader Jorge Mas Canosa and others.
The cemetery, he said, is one place where Cubans don't argue.
No doubt, there are Cubans of all political stripes and the ideological gap widens as one travels across the Florida Straits.
Just 228 miles separate Miami and Havana, but the cities are worlds apart.
Many Cubans in Miami have not been to Cuba since they were children or they have never been at all. Some refuse to go until the government changes. Others are curious to see their homeland.
|The dead at the cemetery aren't arguing, as far as we know, but Mas Canosa's grave includes benches were visitors can sit and talk|
Garcia, who was born in Miami Beach, said he hopes to travel to Cuba during Pope Benedict's trip to the island in March. He said:
Talk about absurdities, I am probably one of the foremost Cuba policy or politics persons in the United States. I've probably been in more battles on this issue than anyone else. I've never been to Cuba. You know, it's sort of like - I study African lions and I've never actually seen an African lion. I've never been in Africa.It was interesting to meet with Garcia and hear his views. I spoke with others, too, including lawyers Tony Zamora, Wilfredo Allen, Ricardo Martinez-Cid, Luis Fernandez, Santiago Alpizar, writers Emilio Ichikawa and Armando de Armas, radio host Ninoska Perez, economist Eugenio Yáñez and U.S. Rep. David Rivera.
Over the next year, I hope to get to South Florida more often. I realize how important Miami is to the history and politics of Cuba.
Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits are passionate about their country and have important stories to tell.
I asked Alberto de la Cruz, managing editor of the Babalu blog, why exiles have such strong feelings about Cuba. Here's what he said, via email:
These ties provide a near constant connection to Cuba and serves as a daily reminder to exiles of the systematic destruction that has been taking place in Cuba over the last five decades. It is also a daily reminder of the ongoing misery suffered by their family members and friends still living under the tyranny of the Castro dictatorship.
The close proximity; the family ties; the still vivid memories of a vibrant Cuban society that before the Castro revolution enjoyed a standard of living higher than many countries in Europe; the dismantling and destruction of traditional Cuban culture by the so-called ideals of the revolution; all of these factors combine to make Cuba a passionate cause for Cuban exiles and Cuban Americans.
What took place in Cuba when Castro took over was not a voluntary change to a different system of government. Instead, what took place was the wholesale destruction of the institutions and ideals that defined Cuba and the Cuban identity. That, in and of itself, is enough to inspire passion among Cuban exiles who hold their country dear.
When you add the repression and death brought about by Fidel Castro and his revolution, and the constant misery suffered by relatives, friends, and fellow Cubans, it serves to stoke the fires of passion even more.