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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 12:33 GMT 13:33 UK
Miami's Cubans look to the future
By Emilio San Pedro
BBC News, Miami

Man ringing bell in front of Versailles sign
The Versailles restaurant acts as a rallying point for Cuban exiles

Since the news of Fidel Castro's ill health first emerged on Monday, Cuban exiles have been congregating in the heart of Miami's Little Havana district to celebrate what they perceive to be the demise of the Cuban president.

Hundreds and sometimes thousands of exiles have taken to the streets to celebrate the news - the mood is one of jubilation, as they drive past or stand outside the emblematic Cuban restaurant, Versailles, celebrating what could be for them the dawn of a new Cuba.

Most of them say they believe Mr Castro, who they describe as a tyrant, has already died.

But, is it simply an outpouring of jubilation over what they think is the end of their long-standing enemy? Or, do Cuban exiles imagine themselves leaving everything they have built in Miami behind and moving back to Cuba?

Would they do so while a communist government was in place? And, what of a reconciliation with those who have long supported the communist revolution?

Part time

Some talk about returning to visit their loved ones graves after many years away. Others say they hope that a far reaching change on the island will help them regain the property they lost at the start of the Revolution.

However, many people simply say they dream of going back and maybe living part time in Cuba.

It's very easy to ponder a future in Cuba sipping coffee and eating pastries at Miami restaurants like Versailles
Luis, security guard

Maria, a teacher in her 50s who has lived in the United States since she was nine, says given how long she has been in here she cannot imagine being able to leave her life in Miami completely, but she would consider living in Cuba part-time.

"Most people my age feel the same way. We would want to make some kind of return to Cuba but we'd also like to see the people who have been so cruel to their fellow Cubans brought to justice," says Maria.

Maria says that "life on the island will never be the same".

"Some people may not be able to cope with returning there because it may be too difficult to adjust to a Cuba which has undergone nearly 50 years of communist rule," she adds.

Harsh reality

One interesting fact is the distinction that exists between the Cubans like Maria who arrived with the first wave of Cuban immigrants and those like Luis, a middle-aged security guard who has only been in Miami for two years.

Boy waves Cuban flag
Some exiles in Miami have lived there all their lives
Luis says that people like him see Cuba differently.

"I would actually have less intentions of returning without Fidel there because he's the glue that holds the whole place together," he says.

"Without Fidel what will happen is that the discord, envy and hatred which has been bubbling under in Cuba in recent years will rise to the surface and I would hate to be there to see it unfold," he adds.

And, he goes further. Luis says that the Cubans who have been in Miami for decades or from the start of the Revolution should not even consider moving back.

"It's very easy to ponder a future in Cuba sipping coffee and eating pastries at Miami restaurants like Versailles," Luis says.

"However, the harsh reality of life on the island will be difficult if not impossible for them to adjust to," he concludes.

Blood ties

For others, like Fidel Castro's younger sister, Juanita, the answer to all these problems lies in achieving a reconciliation between the Cubans living on the island and those living in exile.

Fidel and Raul Castro's younger sister
Fidel and Raul Castro's sister hopes for reconciliation
"The hate exists on both sides," says Juanita who has not spoken to her two brothers, Fidel and Raul, for over 40 years.

"It's time that we stop the hate and start to love one another," she says, adding that the concern she felt for her brother's wellbeing when she heard he was seriously ill has made her realise that family and blood ties should prevail over political disagreements.

She says the acts of jubilation seen in Miami since the news of Fidel Castro's ill health first emerged are wrong.

"These demonstrations were unnecessary. They don't offer the world a good image for our cause, our country and the exile community as a whole."

"I don't hate anybody," says Juanita. "And, I'm taking the first step by talking about it and expressing concern over the future of Cuba."


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