Los Angeles

LA Cubans at Odds Over Obama's Change in Cuban Policy

Inside a small cafe in Hawthorne, aptly called "Cafe Cuba and Cakes," local Cuban immigrants gathered Wednesday to discuss what they saw as a surprise move from Washington: an announcement to restore diplomatic and economic ties with the island country.

"I feel sad, I feel betrayed," said Redondo Beach resident Oscar Pichardo.

The story of Pechardo's escape from Cuba reaches back 50 years. As a young boy, he was one of 14,000 Cuban refugee children smuggled off the island with help from the Catholic Church and the U.S. State Department. "Operation Pedro Pan" (Peter Pan) was a secret program that left many of those children orphans, an option their parents believed was much better than living under the rule of Fidel Castro.

Pichardo's family was later able to escape as well, and settled in Los Angeles.

"The one area that we looked to the United States was for leadership against oppression, and now it's not even there," Pichardo said.

Estela Bueno called the announcement a slap in the face for her parents, who left Cuba with nothing more than the clothes on their back.

"I was in shock," she said. "This is the saddest day of my life."

She says her parents gave up everything for one thing: freedom.

"It's an insult for the Cubans," said Arturo Bueno, Estela's husband.

All three of the group are "Pedro Pans," with views on President Barack Obama's change in policy they say even he doesn't understand.

Pichardo says while many argue that the U.S. can peacefully work with other communist countries like China and Vietnam, he says none have the unique ability to tout the same family of dictators like Cuba has for the last 55 years.

"Cuba is one big company, owned by the Castro Family," Pichardo said. "The Cuban people are still going to suffer under this dictatorship."

And yet there seems to be a generational gap in the views of what's happening in Cuba. Luke Salas of Malibu is part of the group "Roots of Hope" which has been working towards greater Internet accessibility in Cuba. He says the announcement from the White House is an important first step towards change on the island.

"The key is this is the direction that will hopefully create the possibility," he said, "and once you create possibility, then anything can be created."

Salas, the son of Cuban immigrants, is working independently on a documentary about baseball in Cuba. He says he looks forward to the open discussions of opportunity for entrepreneurship in Cuba, but adds that he does not forget the struggles his own family faced to escape Castro's Cuba.

"It's about understanding what's happened is the past and it plays a role but moving forward," Salas said, "this is about giving children in Cuba an opportunity to hopefully one day live their own dreams and pursue their own dreams, just as I have here in the United States."

For Pichardo, he says the younger generations don't understand the past enough to make decisions for the future.

"There's nothing wrong with what these people want," Pichardo said, "but they haven't lived it. They don't understand it. They don't understand that you cannot trust, whatever the Castro government tells you, you can't trust it."

It's the same message he sends to President Obama, adding, "They keep saying we're going to deal with the Cuban people - no you are not. You're going to deal with the Cuban government, which is the hierarchy that's in place now and has been for 50 years."

Estela Bueno agreed, saying, "the Castros know how to manipulate everybody and this is another example of how he manipulated Obama."

Pichardo goes a step further, saying, "Basically it's a dictatorship, cruel, repressive and now the American people are certifying this dictatorship."

Note: An earlier version of this article misspelled Pichardo.

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