Gloria Argudin stood before hundreds of protesters in Little Havana. Her eyes welled with tears, her fists tightened with anger.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I'm ashamed of our president today,” the 78-year-old said. “I was arrested in Cuba back then for not supporting Fidel. No matter what, I haven't lost the strength to fight. Please fight with me for a free Cuba.”
More than 200 protesters of all ages gathered in the core of Little Havana, Southwest Eighth Street and 13th Avenue, on Sunday morning. They called on President Barack Obama to end relations with Cuba, the homeland for many in Miami. The president’s visit to Cuba stirred up a smorgasbord of emotions.
Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos López-Cantera, the son and grandson of Cuban exiles, was one of them.
“Today is a sad day for me,” he said. “I never thought that I would see a president of the United States of America landing Air Force One in a communist Cuba. I grew up learning firsthand what it was like to flee communism and oppression.”
The young old and young at the protest held up signs with pictures of family members who are still jailed for rebelling against the Castro regime. Others waved Cuban flags and banners that bashed Obama for “coddling the Cuban government.”
“They have made it clear that they welcome American investment, and they welcome President Obama but there will be no change in the way Cuba conducts business,” Coral Gables Commissioner Vince Lago said.
“It's an embarrassment,” he said. “The Cuban government has harassed and jailed hundreds of Cuban dissents in preparation for Obama’s visit. It's been 90 years since an American president went to Cuba. This is not the time or the place for the democracy of the U.S. to bend at the knees of the Cuban government.”
Sylvia Iriondo, president of M.A.R. por Cuba (Mothers and Women for Anti-Repression) in Miami, said the president's visit was "ill-advised."
“When I heard that he was going to walk through the streets of Old Havana with his family, I could not help to think about the countless number of Cuban families that were uprooted, separated and destroyed because of the Castro regime,” she said. “When I heard that President Obama was going to be photographed watching a baseball game in a stadium in Havana, I could not help but think that for the Cubans in the island, life is not a baseball game, or for that matter, any game.”
Alberto Buron, 92, of Little Havana said he disagrees with Sunday's protesters.
“I am very supportive of Obama going to Cuba,” Buron said, noting that he was arrested twice in Cuba in the 1960s for rebelling against the Castro regime. “Obama is not a communist. He is president of the greatest country on earth. This will open doors in Cuba and fix a generation that is distorted and destroyed. I may not be alive but you'll see, come back to me in some months and tell me how Cuba has improved for the best with Obama’s help.”
Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat teaches political theory at Florida International University and is the national secretary of the Cuban Democratic Directorate in Miami.
“We want to support the people in Cuba who are really fighting for change,” he said. “We want an equal Cuba. I don't have a problem with negotiations, but I think this visit is taking place during the worst times. Obama said in December: ‘I won't go unless there's progress in human rights.’ There has been no progress.
“Today we are getting reports of people, journalists getting beaten. They need solidarity. They need help from the free world, from the world's most powerful country.”
On Sunday, protesters called on the Cuban people to be vocal in the streets.
“We want the Cuban people to overflow the streets today!” one woman yelled. The crowd supported her by shouting “Cuba Libre!”