Obama Is Going to Cuba, and No One in Miami Is Really That Pissed

When Obama normalized relations with Cuba last year, barely a handful of protesters showed up to demonstrate.
When Obama normalized relations with Cuba last year, barely a handful of protesters showed up to demonstrate.
Photo by Trevor Bach

When President Obama confirmed this morning that he will head to Cuba next month — becoming the first sitting president to visit since 1928 — it swept through Miami like a tropical storm. Pot-banging protesters stormed the streets of Little Havana, Molotov cocktails were flung at consulates of nations friendly to the Castros, and cars were flipped in fits of rage. 

Just kidding! In fact, there's barely a hint of outrage in South Florida. No ominous statements from elected officials. No sign-wielding marchers in the streets. Aside from the odd angry internet comment, you'd hardly know that the president of the United States is about to visit a country stuck in a five-decade-long embargo largely due to the passionate lobbying of Miami's elite El Exilio

It's just the latest evidence of Miami's shifting views on relations with Cuba, a fact best illustrated last January when Obama first announced his renewed relations with the Castro regime. Just a decade earlier, the news would surely have been greeted with righteous fury. 

Instead, here's the scene New Times found outside Versailles Restaurant, long the hotbed of anti-Castro rhetoric: 

As of 11:30, just a handful of sign-waving protesters were surrounded by dozens of TV crews and reporters. The only real action to film so far came from a lone trio waving anti-Obama signs and chanting, "Coward, coward, coward, Obama, coward!" Periodically, the chants stopped so the demonstrators could give a Spanish-language interview to a TV crew.

Last night's news was the most significant move since that first rapprochement. Obama officially confirmed the trip on Twitter this morning: 

His trip will be the first for a sitting president since Calvin Coolidge paid a visit. And, yes, it's a good bet that political sniping will ramp up come March. But the silence this morning is striking.

No notable Cuban-American elected officials in Miami released statements on the news this morning. When New Times reached out to three of them, the response was more muted disappointment than anger. (Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is the only one who hasn't responded yet.)

Through a spokesperson, County Mayor Carlos Gimenez says he doesn't believe the trip is a good policy move.

"Mayor Gimenez does not believe the Cuban government has made any significant changes to respect human rights, free enterprise, free expression, or a free press, and therefore the government does not deserve the honor of a visit from the leader of the free world," says Michael Hernandez, the mayor's spokesperson.

Miami-Dade Commissioner and former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, meanwhile, says he was hurt more by another official visit earlier this month.

"The more troubling visit to me isn't the president; it was the pope's," Suarez says. "The pope's visit really had a lot more symbolic value to Cubans in America."

Suarez suggests the lack of visible outrage might be because Cuban-Americans have already accepted that Obama is plunging forward with the change. "I've been very disappointed with how he's gone about it, by getting no concessions from the Castros," Suarez says. "But we've already had the big ceremony; we've already raised the American flag. I guess the president's visit just goes with all that. It is not surprising."

Neither of Miami's two GOP candidates for president — Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush — have issued any kind of statement about the news. (Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American from Texas, did suggest that Obama has a secret plot to give the Guantánamo Bay naval base back to the Castros.) 

Average Miamians seem equally lukewarm. The Miami Herald's Facebook post about the news has a middling 21 comments, and at least a third are celebrating the move.   

With commercial flights set to resume between MIA and Havana and an unprecedented wave of cultural events soon to link the island — including a Tampa Bay Rays game in the capital and a Rolling Stones concert — Obama's move might simply seem inevitable.

"My biggest hope is he at least meets with dissidents while he's there," Suarez says. "The one positive is it's harder for the regime to silence the press during these kinds of visits."

Update 2 p.m.: Regalado called New Times to share his views on the trip: Namely, that he's withholding judgment until he sees what Obama does on the trip. If he uses it to push for Democracy and dissident's rights, Regalado says it could be a positive. 

"It all depends on his public statements. If he does like the Pope, and doesn't even mention the opposition, it would be very disappointing, because the leader of the free world has the duty to defend democracy in the world," Regalado says. "If he does come strong asking for democracy and freedom and meeting with the real dissidents and not just getting coffee and donuts at the embassy, people in Miami will appreciate that." 


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