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World

Mixed Reactions In Miami On Diplomatic Overtures To Cuba

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It will go down as one of the most important phone calls in Barack Obama's time in the White House and a pivotal moment in presidential history. Obama spent 45 minutes Tuesday talking to Cuban President Raul Castro, the highest level contact between the countries in more than five decades. That call paved the way for Obama's announcement that the United States will normalize relations with the island. We'll have reaction throughout the program this morning. We begin in Miami. The president seemed to be sending a message to that city's Cuban-American community yesterday when he said change is hard. While some Cuban-Americans welcome this change, others see the president's decision as a betrayal. NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: It's been said many times before that in Miami there's not a Cuban-American community; there are many Cuban-American communities. One of the most vocal is a small group of hardliners that regularly protest any move by the U.S. to normalize relations with Cuba. Yesterday as Obama spoke they gathered outside of a restaurant in Little Havana.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: But 50 years have brought a lot of changes to Miami and its Cuban-American community. The first-generation exiles, those who fled the island and fought unsuccessfully to regain it in the Bay of Pigs, are passing from the scene. Outside Miami's Versailles restaurant, 35-year-old lawyer George Davila said while he was respectful of the older generation, he and others he knew were ready for a change.

GEORGE DAVILA: For us what's most important is not trying to continue to hold a grudge against the pain that our forefathers felt. Our priority should be what's best for Cuba 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now.

ALLEN: But there are still many in Miami for whom the pain is real and personal.

MARLENE ALEJANDRE TRIANE: It's a slap in the face to my dad.

ALLEN: Marlene Alejandre Triane’s father, Armando Alejandre, was one of four men who died in 1996 when their planes were shot down by Cuba's Air Force. The men were with the Miami activist group Brothers to the Rescue. Yesterday as part of a deal that led to the release of American Alan Gross, President Obama ordered the release of three Cuban spies. One of them, Gerardo Hernandez, was also convicted of conspiracy to murder for supplying information that led to the shoot-down of the planes. Triane said Hernandez's release was a blow.

TRIANE: And the one person we have and the president just lets him go, you know, to me it's just a dishonor to my father's memory - to every soldier that goes and does anything that this can happen.

ALLEN: Other family members of the men said they learned of the release of the spies not from the Obama administration, but from the media. They were joined at the news conference by Miami Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

CONGRESSWOMAN ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: This president knows no bounds when it comes to negotiating with terrorists and doing exchanges.

ALLEN: There's another group of Cubans that doesn't speak out much on these issues, but one that's growing in importance. Those are Cubans who've arrived in the last two decades. Their numbers are growing, and they overwhelmingly support normalizing relations with Cuba. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.