Some Who Fled Cuba Are Returning to Help

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Damien Cave writes about the many Cubans who have returned to the island in many capacities, saying that business ideas have ranged “from a bikini franchise to a peanut farm, restaurants, and design firms for software and home interiors.” Cave highlights the evolving bonds between Cubans and Cuban-Americans, while giving examples of the misgivings on both sides. Read the full article in the link below:

Many of the first Cubans to leave after Fidel Castro took over are beginning to come back, reuniting with the island they left in bitterness and anger, overcoming decades of heated opposition to its leaders, and partnering with Cubans in direct, new ways.

Some are educating a new crop of Cuban entrepreneurs to take advantage of the recent limited openings for private enterprise in Cuba. Conservative Republican exiles in Miami have also helped finance the renovation of Cuba’s most revered Roman Catholic shrine. Young heirs to the Bacardi family, which fled Cuba after the revolution, leaving behind luxurious homes and a rum business that employed 6,000 people, are sending disaster relief and supporting artists. And Alfonso Fanjul, the Florida sugar baron, recently acknowledged that he had gone back to Cuba twice, meeting with Cuban officials and later declaring that he would consider investing under the “right circumstances.”

It has been a shocking reversal for a community of exiles that has long represented a pillar of support for the American embargo against Cuba. And though the activity is legal through humanitarian or other licensed exceptions to the sanctions, some Cuban-American lawmakers have responded with outrage. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, called Mr. Fanjul’s trips a betrayal.

“The question is how can we better help the Cuban people free themselves from this regime that has been there for over half a century,” he said. “And the best way to do that is to deny funds to the regime in any way we can.”

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But what has emerged in Miami, New York and elsewhere over the past two years, as President Raúl Castro has opened the economy, just a crack, is an alternative approach that emphasizes grass-roots engagement, often through churches, as a tool for giving Cubans skills and independence from the state. Among many Cuban-Americans who now describe themselves as a part of a diaspora, rather than exiles, a new sense of responsibility — to Cubans on the island, not to the property they lost or to fighting the Castros — has gathered strength.

“We think engagement, dialogue and interaction — lowering the barriers — is the best way to develop civil society,” Mr. Mestre said, “but also some of us who feel some respect for the 11 million people stuck there, we just really feel that’s the right thing to do.” He added that he sought a relationship with Cuba, despite the loss of his family’s homes and businesses, including what was once Cuba’s largest television and radio network, because “the loss of our property and wealth is kind of secondary to the feeling about what happened to the country and its people.”

The expanding exchange of people, ideas and money is a result of policy changes over the past few years in Washington and Havana that have opened up travel and giving for Cubans and Cuban-Americans. After decades of being cut off by politics, the airport here is always crammed with Cuban-Americans coming to see family and lugging in gifts, just as it is now more common to see Cuban artists, academics and dissidents in Florida or New York, often mingling with the established Cuban-American elite.

[. . .] For many families, the transition from keeping Cuba at a distance to pulling it close has taken time and multigenerational discussion. When Kevin O’Brien and some of his cousins decided a few years ago to take charge of the long-dormant Bacardi Family Foundation, they agreed to focus much of their support on Cuba, returning to a version of an old family custom: Relatives pool money together and distribute it to a chosen cause or person.

[. . .] Cuban officials seem tolerant, to a point. Eager to improve their weak economy, they welcome the money but fear its power, said one artist supported by the foundation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals. He added that while Cuba’s leaders had become more welcoming — no longer calling exiles gusanos, or worms — they were still distrustful, determined to keep Cuban-American influence from becoming an immediate challenge to the state.

For full article, see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/world/americas/as-cubas-economy-opens-a-bit-some-who-fled-castro-return-to-help.html?_r=0

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