http://havanajournal.com/culture/entry/in_cuba_new_jews_help_maintain_communitys_stability_despite_exodus/

HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

In Cuba, new Jews help maintain community’s stability, despite exodus

Posted July 23, 2003 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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By Larry Luxner | [url=http://www.jta.org]http://www.jta.org[/url]
     
SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba (JTA) — Except for a bronze plaque in Hebrew and Spanish identifying itself as “Congregacion Hatikva,” the crumbling blue-and-white building is indistinguishable from the others along narrow, cobblestoned Calle Corona.

As the Caribbean sun begins to drop behind the clouds, an old woman shuffles by selling little pastries for about four cents each. Reggae and salsa music blare from a house across the street, while at the little synagogue, 31 Jews of all ages and colors sit in black plastic chairs, waiting patiently for Friday night services to begin.

Finally, in walks Julio Amona Gomez, the spiritual leader of Santiago de Cuba’s Jews. For the next hour, Gomez — a biochemistry professor who converted to Judaism in 1996 — leads his congregation in prayer as an electric fan struggles to keep the sweating worshipers cool.

“We haven’t had a rabbi since 1966, but every Shabbat afternoon we study the Torah, and everyone participates,” says Eugenia Faria Levy, president of Hatikva and Gomez’s sister-in-law.

Faria, who recently wrote a short history of the Jewish community here, noted that between 800 and 1,000 Jews lived in Santiago de Cuba before the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. Today there are no more than 80 in Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city, located some 525 miles east of Havana.

“Fidel has always been respectful of the Jewish community, maybe because we respected the laws of Cuba,” she said — though she adds, with some pride, that “not a single member of the Jewish community of Santiago de Cuba is a member of the Communist Party.”

After Friday night services, the congregants enjoy Shabbat dinner in an adjoining room — complete with arroz con pollo, a few rolls, tomato salad and lemonade.

“By luck, our vice president is a veterinarian,” Faria says. “Even though he’s not a shochet,” or kosher butcher, “we slaughter chickens the best way we can, trying to stay close to the rituals of kashrut.”

Such is life today for the estimated 1,300 Jews still living in Cuba, down from 15,000 or so before the revolution. Around 1,000 of them reside in Havana, with much smaller numbers in the cities of Santiago de Cuba (80); Camaguey (70); Guantanamo (60); Sancti Spiritus (45); Granma (35); Cienfuegos (20); and Santa Clara (fewer than 20).

Dr. Jose Miller is president of the Casa de la Comunidad Hebrea de Cuba, also known as the Patronato. Located in Havana’s once-fashionable Vedado district, the Patronato is the largest and most active of Cuba’s five remaining synagogues — none of which has a rabbi.

Miller says Cuba’s Jewish population has stabilized in recent years: Some Jews move to Israel or the United States, but new people — mainly the non-Jewish spouses of mixed marriages — convert and join the community.

“We’re definitely better off now than we were in the early 1990s,” said Miller, 78, a retired surgeon who has been president of the Patronato since 1981.

“In general the Jews live the same as everyone else, and in some ways we live better,” he said. “Some receive money from their families, some don’t. But the community has lots of friends. We don’t make campaigns to raise money, but if we have an opportunity we ask visitors to give us a few dollars to help out.”

Interviewed in a tiny wood-paneled office crammed with religious books, Jewish calendars and seder plates, Miller said a butcher shop in Old Havana sells kosher meat at subsidized prices to registered members of the Jewish community — which many buy, even though few actually keep kosher.

Nestor Szewach, coordinator of Cuba programs for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, is currently the only foreigner authorized by the Cuban government to work full time with Cuba’s Jewish community. A native of Argentina, Szewach, 35, previously was community director of Tiferet Israel community center in a suburb of Buenos Aires.

He and his wife, Mara, live in Havana and are charged with supervising the Joint’s $90,000 annual budget for Cuba projects. The money supports outreach programs, holiday supplies and bus transportation for children, among other things.

“We’re the fifth couple working in Cuba since the Joint started its Cuba program in 1992,” he said. “In Argentina, I was director of a community center that took extreme security measures. Here, there are no expressions of anti-Semitism, and all the synagogues keep their doors open.”

The Patronato is the undisputed center of Jewish life in Cuba. Thanks to money from the Joint, the community runs a Sunday school for 70 children and 30 adults.

Two rented buses fan out through Havana on Sunday mornings, picking up children and their professors. They’re dropped off at the Patronato in time for breakfast at 9:45 a.m. At 1 p.m., after classes are finished, the kids are transported back home.

In every Jewish family in Cuba, “there’s someone who isn’t Jewish,” Szewach said. “But we have converted around 300 people who were already married. Before the conversion, they take 20 weeks of classes.”

Szewach said the conversions are performed by Conservative rabbis from Los Angeles, San Diego and Buenos Aires.

In the lobby of the Patronato are marble plaques commemorating a recent synagogue renovation and thanking the Greater Miami Jewish Federation for its help. There also are dozens of photos, including one showing Fidel Castro clutching a prayer book as members of the community light Chanukah candles.

Therein lies an enduring paradox for Cuba’s Jews: Despite the regime’s official hostility toward Israel and Zionism, Castro appears to have bent over backward to accommodate Cuba’s Jewish minority. Since 1992, in any case, the government has relaxed restrictions on religious believers, which has encouraged Jews to affiliate with the community.

Even so, Jews who don’t have access to hard currency suffer economically like anyone else.

One middle-aged Jewish man in Santiago de Cuba said he earns 325 pesos a month — about $12 — in his government job. But the man, who asked not to be named, said he supplements his income by running a part-time delivery service on the side.

“There are many people who live much worse than I do,” he said. “Families are leaving, and they help those who stay. But people who don’t get anything live terribly, because here you must have hard currency to eat well.”

The Patronato’s Miller, described by some community members as an ally of the Castro regime, says he’s in a difficult position.

“The government does not manipulate me,” he insisted. “What interests me is how Castro acts toward the Jewish community. If the government organizes a pro-Palestinian march in front of the U.S. Interests Section, I wouldn’t go. But for Elian” Gonzalez — the Cuban child whose mother died while bringing him to Miami, and who was returned to his father in Cuba by U.S. immigration authorities — “I went.”

“I don’t ask anyone in the Jewish community what he thinks about politics,” Miller said. “This community is not pro-Castro or anti-Castro. And if someone wants to be a dissident, let him be one — but not inside the Patronato.”

The preceding is part of a 10-part series, “Latin America΄s Jews.” Funding for this series was made possible, in part, by The George Rohr Foundation, Inc.

Member Comments

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On October 19, 2004, Robert Jackson wrote:

Is there any such things as Afro-Romani and did they really intermarry with Marianos or crypto-jews with French cuban planters and settle in Cuba first and later Louisiana?

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On August 04, 2005, bobbi wrote:

There are some Sinti Romani that were originally Bene-Israel because like the Bene-Israel of Indian they have the M172 haplogroup and Eu9 Haplogroups, which is found in Jewish Semetic people. The Theory is the Jewish-gypsies came originally from Gorgan or Jurjan Iran, where Jews were exile in 360 B.C. Jews were for some unknown reasons persecuted and in about 360 BC many were deported to Hyrcania (Gorgan) on the Caspian shore, near the Iranian-Turkmen border and Jurjan was in both part of Iran and Turkmenistan. Now the Persian Jews that remain Jews were called Bene-Israel. The Persian Jews who mixed with Zoroastrian were called Parsis, which is very close to the Jewish relegion. Some of the Parsis came to indian as Brahmin called Sakaldwipi Brahmin and Saraswati Brahmin other became rajput called Suryavanshi or Sun worshipind rajput or Lohar ranas or Lohanas. Some the Sinti Romani are direct descendants of Lohanas rajput, some of who were Jewish. 

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On August 04, 2005, bobbi wrote:

Now there some gypsies and some Cuban Jewish who were gypsies that carry the M172 haplogroup, Eu9 haplogroup and the J2 Haplogroup that is present in Cohen or Cohamin Jews. 20% of Sinti Romani like the Ashkenazi Jews carry the J2 haplogroup. They are not only Cypto-Jews the are direct descendant of Bene-Israel or Indian Jews.

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On August 04, 2005, bobbi wrote:

Some of the Sinti Romani were mixed with the anuism or Crypto-Jews because in Spain Gypsies were taught to be some sort of lost Jewish tribe long time ago. Gypsies and may have first mixed in Central Asia or in Hungary where alot of Hungarian Jews are also of Gypsy descent and the Same is true for Spanish Gypsies. Both gypsies and Jews were kick out of Spain and France and settle in the Americas especially in the Carribean.

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On October 03, 2005, Leah wrote:

Dear Mr. Jackson,

Yes.

My grandfather was from a French family, which travelled to Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Haiti, Santo Domingo and Cuba.  My grandmother was Afro-Cuban. 

I have researched the French community of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands and found a great deal of intermarriage. 

There may have been a mix of Africans and people of Indian Jewish descent, indeed.  Anectodal evidence regarding eating and cooking habits of some Afro-Cubans points in the direction of a Jewish influence.

Also, the Ibos claim Jewish roots as well.  They celebrate Yom Kippur, which they call Yomura Kippura, I believe.  There has been a recognition of Ibo Jewish roots. 

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 04, 2005, bobbi wrote:

In the early 1800ths the alot of the french and some of the spanish immigrate to Cuba and Louisiana were French and Spanish Jews and gypsies and they did intermarried with both the free and slave African populations and produces alot of the creole or criollos people you see in the Carribean and especially in Cuba and Louisiana. I am not a praticing Jew and I am hindu because my gypsy or East Indian ancestor were very important brahmin in the hindu faith or Jewish descent. But my sister is a praticing Orthrodox Jews and She has incounter prejudice from the Orthrodox Jewish community who thing they can set the standard of who is Jewish who is not Jewish. Even though we come from the family of there Messiah who “El Diablo” or Lucipher and Jews will never say this but it is the truth an those who made deal with him like Castro will inherit the earth and it has nothing to do with good or evil. It has to do with two worlds there world and our world. In there world we were consider evil now in our world. They are evil we are good. Voodoo is no long evil now; It is good. And Latins or Native American need not longer to be subservant to others because the about inherit the earth. Castro is protect because he was marranos and he pratice Santeria. And Santeria is good very good. Because we control heaven now. And the same Messiah in Judauism and Zoroastrianism is the same God in Hinduism. Lucipher is the Messiah and He not longer evil and he is forgiven and reinstated back into heaven. Go to [url=http://www.google.com]http://www.google.com[/url] and Type Melek Taus is forgiven and reinstated. Kurds, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindu and Gypsies all have in common Yezidis or Yazidis who worship Melek Taus or Lucipher. I am Afro-romani or Marranos descent but I am also of Yezidi descent to and I have see the Jewish Messiah with my own eyes. I will not tell you he looks. But I will his Consort who Jews would call Isthar, Christian the Virgin Mary and We would call her Durga in Hinduism. It all the same name name for the same Angel and Both are related Yezidis who from Ur or Sumeria when was part of Persian.

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On October 04, 2005, Leah wrote:

Dear Bobbi,

Why would you log into a site about Jews in Cuba in order to offend the Jews? 

I wrote a comment regarding Mr. Jackson’ post on the subject of French and Spanish planters in Cuba.  Some people of Indian lineage may also have come to Cuba—particularly eastern Cuba—from other islands, to work the sugar plantations. 

How you went from there to your private agenda, which does not serve this article in any way, because it is not on the history of Cuban Jews, is well beyond me.

I respect the research you may have done.  I have been inculcated well to completely avoid idolatry and worship only one G_d.  Therefore, the rest of your “information” is of no value to me. 

I would defend your right to express it, but would refrain from participation in it, because it is not what MY tradition allows.

I would think that if your sister is Orthodox you would understand how offensive it is to a Jew to hear the defense of idolatry.

Please forgive me if you do not consider it idolatry.  I do not mean to offense.  Please let this be the end of that subject. 

I am interested in FACTS about Cuban and Caribbean history and am a serious researcher.

It is my honest opinion that a discussion of religion is not relevant to this article.  Academically, using a forum for ethnography and promoting personal, intense dislike OR worship of one or more persons is not appropriate. 

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 06, 2005, bobbi wrote:

I don’t believe in Idolatry, I believe in real Angels and a real god. This god has many names. Angels and Gods are like different Administrations or regimes. and God is like the Priminster or President. The same happen to Judaism, Hinduism and Zoroastrianism; other relegions followed. The Angel and God I speak of it interchangible pieces. who reside Heaven and for while and then they overthrown and reduce to the netherworld or hell and until they are forgiven then reinstated back into heaven. This the origins of your God and his Angels. And Lucipher was not just Angel he was thee Angel and he was black and midnight with gray comb back hair. Lucipher never served God because until he was overthrow He was God. I am Afro-romani of both Persian Jewish origins and Yezidis origins. You know nothing of the Convenant the Jews made with Lucipher to inherit the earth. You know nothing of his Consort who various Jews use to worship at various time from Anath in Elephitine with Yahweh in Egypt, to Isthar in Persia, Easter or the Virgin Mary, who Isthar agian and Durga who is Isthar in Hinduism. You say your god is differt than mine I say he is not he is the same infact indentical twin. That is the true nature between good and evil and This is why Twin were studied in War II. The real reason. Now I know alot of what said is over the top. But the origins relegions that contain a heaven and hell, God and Devil, 7 seven Archangels, and Apocalyps all still for one origin in various relegion. And what happen in one relegion also happen in all the other relegion wheather you believe or not. In Christianity you speak of the Apocalyps, which called the Kali-Yuga, which started to us after the death of Hare Krishna. We are not deeply in the Apocalyps now, which is real the end of one world and the beginning of another and That what is happen You world is about the be destroyed our world is about to begin. There are sign all around you every, like for example the rise of Relegious right replublian in the U.S. There are new disease pop up everyday. The rise of Islamic extremism. and the rise of socialism around the world. My country is doing everything to prevent the Apocalyps taken place. But for me I not only Accept the Apocalyps or Revelation. I welcome it. It good sign for us. But for the ones who oppress for thousand of years it not good sign. Because there time is running out.

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On October 07, 2005, Leah wrote:

Bobbi,

I have FORMALLY studied other religions, have reseached the similarities between cultures.  I ask again that you show respect for the subject of this forum:  Judaism in Cuba.  It is sad that you use various cultures to present a destructive agenda.

You say “my country” but do not state which it is.  You claim to be Marrano, yet use books from the ‘New Testament’.  You are not a Marrano, bobbi.  It seems to me that you use facts about similarities between cultures to promote, for your convenience, ideas based on Hare Krishna AND Revelation, Socialism AND theories about fallen angels.  You are all over the place.  That is why I call it NONSENSE. It does not make any sense because it is not based on logic.

Again, I did not address my comment to your post.  I addressed it to Mr. Robert Jackson.  I refuse to address your nonsense, as I have a productive life and am too busy for this. 

I sincerely suggest that you take a course on logic and analyze your arguments.  I suggest a course on communication.  I understand meditation is a well-developed concept in Indian culture, so that may possibly be a resource you can use to help you focus.  You certainly need to learn more about history and about anthropology before engaging in this level of overview. 

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 07, 2005, Leah wrote:

Bobbi,

I have FORMALLY studied other religions, have reseached the similarities between cultures.  I ask again that you show respect for the subject of this forum:  Judaism in Cuba.  It is sad that you use various cultures to present a destructive agenda.

You say “my country” but do not state which it is.  You claim to be Marrano, yet use books from the ‘New Testament’.  You are not a Marrano, bobbi.  It seems to me that you use facts about similarities between cultures to promote, for your convenience, ideas based on Hare Krishna AND Revelation, Socialism AND theories about fallen angels.  You are all over the place.  That is why I call it NONSENSE. It does not make any sense because it is not based on logic.

Again, I did not address my comment to your post.  I addressed it to Mr. Robert Jackson.  I refuse to address your nonsense, as I have a productive life and am too busy for this. 

I sincerely suggest that you take a course on logic and analyze your arguments.  I suggest a course on communication.  I understand meditation is a well-developed concept in Indian culture, so that may possibly be a resource you can use to help you focus.  You certainly need to learn more about history and about anthropology before engaging in this level of overview. 

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 09, 2005, bobbi wrote:

Dear Leah please let me center myself. Socialism is thousand of you years older than you thing. Dravidian or Tamil people in india are some of the oldest socialist like forexample Kerala India has been socialist for thousands of years before socialism had and name. Jews who are direct related to Dravidian people came Zagros Mt in Iran as Kurds who were originally a Dravidian people, where socialist too. I am trying to be communist or capitalist. I want to be socialist like the origin popular revolution in Cuba before it became Communist. I was support by Cuban Jews. and After Fidel Castro is gone it will be supported by Cuban Jews agian. I don’t want anybody to take over Cuba except Cuban Jews both pro and anti-Castro Cuban Jews I don’t care which ones rule just as long as they are Cuban Jews or Marranos. and they have socialist ideal like England and other socialist countries. Revelation is secrectly all about Socialism or New World Order. It is the end of one world and the beginning of another. Our people were destine to take control of the this world and that is what happen now the taken control and that what I want. Jews and Hare Krishna are my ancestor because Hare Krishna ancestor were Indian Jews or Bene-Israel originally just like my ancestors, and Jews are very powerful for that reason in india. Jews have taken alot of ancient secrets from indian but none more important that how to make a nuclear bomb, and gave the secret to both the US and Russia. Jews just did waken up one day and and say ” I’ll think I will build a nuclear bomb. They got the imformation from India. India has the power to destroy this whole planet that what Kali-Yuga or Revelations is all about. and the same horse men you see in Kali-Yuga are the same you see in Revelations. I am Hindus but alot of what is said in the Bibicial text is also said in the hindus text that is why I believe both because they saying the same thing. Geneticially the human being where taught to come insignal for one single lineage out of Africa; however in new genetic information indicate that may be other lineage either out of Africa or Eurasians and it is these people who will be taken over this world in the future. I and my family some of these people. 

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On October 09, 2005, publisher wrote:

bobbi,

I will allow your most recent post even though it is pretty far off topic from our Cuba focus. Please stick to Cuba related issues because that is what we like to read and write about here at the Havana Journal.

This is not a forum for religious discussion.

Thank you.

Publisher

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On October 09, 2005, bobbi wrote:

ok. I did mention about the fact that I wish the Cuban Jews no matter wheather they are pro-Castro or Anti-Castro to take over. I see great and good thing happen to Cuba and the Cuban people if Cuban Jews are aloud to take over when Fidel era end. and no matter wheather his Brother take over or not I still think Cuba will have a much brighter future and I that is what I want and I want Cuban Jews and Marranos to be a big part of that.

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On October 10, 2005, Leah wrote:

Dear bobbi,

Please consider that there are people in Cuba who sacrificed for the last 46 years and running while those of us who left did not have to suffer so.  Cuba for the Cubans, I say, even if it means that those Cubans do not believe as I believe and even if they are far off from the Cuba I remember as a child. 

They say you cannot go home again, but there is still something there, in our homeland, that moves every cell in my body, with memories I cannot even express. 

If you read Jose Marti, there is a poem about how cold milk tasted better after he had been horseback riding in the country, how the sky was bluer, etc.  It is something the young people use to mock us exiles sometimes, how we say everything was better in Cuba, but it is true.  There is a recognition of a mutual heritage and experience and FEELING, which does not allow me to impose ANY KIND of foreign domination of Cuba, even if it were by me or benefitted me. 

Think about the sacrifices they made who stayed behind and act with humility.  Remember, the Jews were slaves in Greece and we are always to remain that in our mind, servants to Our Creator who wants us to trust in him to provide, and to do his work on this earth to promote JUSTICE for all of his children.

I cannot agree with much of what Cubans believe these days, but I will defend their right to have their homeland.  This is THEIR generation.  We had our chance in foreign lands, sad as it is, but we had prosperity for the most part.

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 10, 2005, bobbi wrote:

I hope for the best Cuba and I hope to visit the country one day soon after Chaos dies down after Castro goes. I know there are so Cuban that pro-Castro and anti-Castro but there is a New World Order now and Cuba is a part of it and Cuba will get all the reawards of its sacrifices wheather Castro is there or not. I see a much brighter future for the Cuba people and I hope that Not Afro-Cubans are apart of it but Cuban Jews and Marranos. Because there are certian Jews that are reponsible for this New World Order. And there a certian Jews who did everything to prevent it. I just welcome the change.

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On October 10, 2005, bobbi wrote:

I hope for the best Cuba and I hope to visit the country one day soon after Chaos dies down after Castro goes. I know there are some Cuban people that are pro-Castro and anti-Castro but there is a New World Order now and Cuba is a part of it and Cuba will get all the reawards of its sacrifices wheather Castro is there or not. I see a much brighter future for the Cuba people and I hope that Afro-Cubans are apart of it as well as Cuban Jews and Marranos. Because there are certian Jews that are reponsible for this New World Order. And there a certian Jews who did everything to prevent it. I just welcome the change. I am sorry for the mistakes in the first statement. I am a bit Dyslexsis.

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On October 11, 2005, Leah wrote:

Dear Bobbi,

True, the Cubans will be rewarded after all the sacrfices they have made.  I have no doubt that Afro-Cubans will be part of Cuba’ bright future as they have always been a part of our society, but especially after its liberation from Spain.

I have a bit of dislexia as well.  My daughter, who has it more severely, simply uses the spell checker on her computer to assist her with it.  My worst form of dislexia occurs not when writing, but when walking around.  If I have a meeting and was guided into someone’ office, I can never find my way out of it.  As you can guess, I avoid driving!  Well, it IS a strange form of dislexia, but there you have it.  I am HIGHLY irrational and disoriented when it comes to directions.  I could never be a tour guide, I guess. . .

You have, however, hit on an excellent topic for discussion:  the attitudes which prevail in the new generation of Cubans regarding Afro-Cubans.  I attended a university in South Florida, so I confronted some of the stereotypes which, unfortunately, existed in the minds of some very young people, who, in my opinion, would be more progressive about Afro-Cubans since they live in a country which has undergone such change. 

Since I am quite light skinned, some people will speak to me without realizing that I have Afro-Cuban heritage.  This has allowed me to hear some, not malignant, but nevertheless ignorant, stereotypes which go back to the 1930s and which must have been propagated by the parents of these young people. 

What do you think can be done, realistically, to enlight these young people that they do not return to Cuba one day to embarass all exiles with their backward “sentimentality” for a Cuba that never really existed?

Cordially,

Leah

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On October 11, 2005, bobbi wrote:

I am Afro-romani or Cohen Jewish-gypsy descent and I felt basis for both jews and gypsies. Hey both I am still Cohanim Baby! So get a some respect I would like more but what can you say? Afro-Cuban I think will be respected inventually in new Cuba wheather like China or United States Cuba will be must better off then they were 47 years ago. As for the exile I hope they eventually get the Cuba they romance about so much, but if it like anything like Cuba was in 1939 to 1959, the only thing the are going to get is another Castro. and alot of the people that where kicked out where Cuban Jews and Castro family is say is Marranos and He must great gene like my family to survive as long as he did. I know family are immune to various cancer and HIV and would if Castro family is too because I thing our family my have cross path either in Spain or Portugal and then agian in Cuba; Because Castro family started with marranos by the name of Inez de Castro who became a noble women after the Black Plague because Jews and Gypsies in Spian where some the few people who had that protected them agianst the Black Plague. I have these gene and I am sure some people Castro family has them. I just wonder if we are related?