MIAMI—Waving U.S. and Cuban flags and chanting “Obama, traitor,” anti-Castro protesters gathered Saturday in a Little Havana park in a show of opposition to the president’s plan to normalize relations with the communist nation.
Cuban-American exiles and island opposition leaders vowed to continue fighting the thawing relationship between the countries and prevent any lifting of the embargo. Some speakers emphasized unity of the Cuban-American community and said there is not a generational divide, even though most in the crowd of more than 200 were older.
Many protesters said they felt betrayed by President Barack Obama and his plans. “The worst infamy is the pretext he used: He says it’s to help the Cuban people,” former U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz Balart said to chuckles.
Several chants rang out among protesters: “No more flights to Cuba!” ”Viva Cuba libre!” and “Freedom for all the political prisoners.”
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Some protesters expressed disappointment with demonstration turnouts since the announcement this week of renewed U.S.-Cuba ties.
“The mentality is, ‘Hey, we’re going to be able to buy Cuban cigars and rum.’ Well, it’s not a happy thing for us,” said Armando Merino, 68, who came to the U.S. at age 14. “I’m here because for the Cuban people, my family in Cuba, they are not able to protest.”
Irene Oria, 71, came to protest with her husband, Giordano, 77. Of Obama’s announcement on thawing relations, she said, “It’s not the time to do it this way.”
“With the Castros? No, I’m sorry,” Oria said, adding that the conditions that fueled her decision to leave Cuba at age 24 still exist.
Freddy Suastegui, 31, of Miami, listened to speeches with his family. He said the latest decisions disregard the work being done to promote change in Cuba.
“What diplomacy is going to happen if the Castros aren’t promising anything and we’re going to go ahead and infuse them with more cash?” he said. “That just makes the regime stronger and the people weaker.”
Activist Sylvia Iriondo of the group Mothers Against Repression agreed with some of Suastegui’s thoughts on Obama’s plans: “It sends the wrong message to terrorists and criminals that no matter what, they can get away with it.”
One of the few young people was Milena Reyes, 10, of Miami, there with her 72-year-old grandpa Rafael Reyes.
“Everything about what happened, she needs to know,” Rafael Reyes said.
“I wanted to come support my grandfather and see what he wanted me to see,” Milena said.
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Rey Anthony Lastre, 18, said some young people “don’t have the same way of expressing their feelings” and that if the protest had been held at a university, more would have attended.
Miami is no stranger to protests from the Cuban community. Of the estimated 2 million Cubans living in the United States, the majority resides in South Florida and many remain closely attuned to developments on the island.
Thousands took to the streets after federal agents seized Elian Gonzalez in a prolonged international custody dispute and returned him to Cuba in 2000. The protesters set bonfires in the road and stopped traffic. Police responded in riot gear with tear gas and made more than 350 arrests.
Hundreds paraded through the streets of Little Havana when Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul in 2006.
And in 2010, Cuban-born singer Gloria Estefan led tens of thousands in support of the Ladies in White, a group of Cuban mothers and wives of 75 dissidents arrested in the 2003 government crackdown there.
But protests and parades have become smaller and more sporadic.
“I think there are a lot of people sitting on the sidelines, tired,” said Andy Gomez, a Cuba expert and retired University of Miami professor.
From The Associated Press. AP writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this report.