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Posted April 22, 2009 by publisher in Cuban American Culture

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Cuban-Americans are glad they no longer have US restrictions on how often they can visit the island, but in times of global economic crisis plenty are not planning to pack their bags soon.

For Mario Salazar, who came to Miami from Cuba 23 years ago, the landmark gesture by President Barack Obama to end travel restrictions is a non-starter.

The move “is good news, at the really worst time,” he says.

“I can’t really even think about that now. I hardly have enough money to pay the bills and feed my family,” added the 47-year-old, who works on a pest company truck in mostly Cuban-American areas of Miami that have been hard hit by the housing and jobs crisis.

“This chance to travel makes me feel just like Cubans in Havana feel: they gave them permission to stay at (tourist) hotels, but they don’t have any money to go to one,” Salazar said.

With no regular major airline flights, the current 600-dollar airfare on special charter flights from Miami to Havana comes on top of 500 dollars in fees—for a new or reissued passport and the special travel permits Cuba requires from its citizens living in the United States.

Alexis Cabrera, a 53-year-old Cuban who runs a food store in downtown Miami, is toiling under financial burdens. To visit Havana with his wife and two children, he estimates the costs would run up to 5,000 dollars before he even arrived.

In addition to the tickets and a mountain of costly paperwork, Cabrera said he would want to “bring money to his family and buy many things because there is great need” on the communist island.

The Cuban government, however, charges a 20 percent tax on money brought into the country, to be paid on arrival in Havana, slapping an additional cost on an already unwieldy budget.

Last Monday, Obama kicked off his administration’s diplomatic outreach to Cuba by lifting all curbs on travel and money transfers by the estimated 1.5 million US residents with relatives in Cuba.

Under former president George W. Bush, the United States only allowed Cubans to travel home once every three years and send up to 300 dollars back every three months.

A trip to Cuba is not among Mark Gimenez’s short-term priorities.

After accumulating crippling debt on overdue mortgage payments, the 37-year-old technician had to leave his apartment earlier this year with his wife and daughter.

“We had to return to renting, and are trying to start again. At least I have a job,” said Gimenez.

The 300-mile (482-kilometer) trip to Cuba from Miami is just not feasible, he added.

The economic crisis has devastated communities in Florida in recent months, notably in the construction sector, where unemployment has fallen 20 percent in the last year.

Augusto Valdez, 35, a Cuban-American who used to work for a Miami construction firm, has been jobless since November.

“It’s been five years since I’ve been to Cuba, and I think it’ll be a while longer before I can go again,” he said.

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Monday called again for Obama to end the nearly half-a-century-old US economic “blockade” ofCuba.

“The cruel blockade against the Cuban people costs lives and results in human suffering,” said the Caribbean nation’s iconic revolutionary.

Speaking in Port of Spain at an Americas summit on Sunday, Obama tempered speculation that a historic thaw in relations between the United States andCuba was on its way following conciliatory gestures by the two countries.

Although he admitted that the 50-year US policy on Cuba “hasn’t worked,” he also said issues of political prisoners, freedom of speech and democracy are important, and can’t simply be “brushed aside.”

U.S. Overtures Find Support Among Cuban-Americans

By DAMIEN CAVE | New York Times

In Miami, Emilio Izquierdo Jr. said President Obama was “giving Castro everything without demanding anything.”

But at 53, with Fidel and Raúl Castro still in power, Mr. Diaz has reversed course, praising the new White House plan to end restrictions on visits and remittances for Cuban-Americans — and insisting that travel shouldbe open to all Americans.

“From Key West, we should have six ferries going out during the day and six coming back,” he said.

It is a stunning change of heart now shared by a wide majority of Cuban-Americans. A poll released Monday by Bendixen & Associates has found that 67 percent of the community now supports the removal of all restrictions for travel toCuba , an 18-point increase from three years ago, when the same question was asked. Even among older, so-called historic exiles like Mr. Diaz, the survey shows that support for a new approach toCuba has grown.

“This is across the board,” said Fernand Amandi, an executive vice president at Bendixen, which has been polling Cuban-Americans for more than 25 years. He added, “We’re at the end of a 50-year stalemate period, calling for a new dawn on U.S.-Cuba relations.”

The nationwide telephone survey of 400 adults — the first gauge of Cuban-American opinion since President Obama announced his new policy last week — was conducted April 14-16, and the margin of sampling error is plus or minus five percentage points.

It suggests that Mr. Obama has become a catalyst for openness…


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