Miami’s Cuban exiles wait and see

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Cuban exiles of all ages celebrate outside La Carreta Restaurant on Southwest 87th Avenue.
Cuban exiles of all ages celebrate outside La Carreta Restaurant on Southwest 87th Avenue. el Nuevo Herald

Four days after Fidel Castro’s death, Miami’s Cuban-exile community is expectantly preparing for what new reality will emerge for their homeland.

Ding dong the witch is dead. What now?

One thing is true, leaders of Miami’s historic exiles, the older generation whose lives were personally derailed by Castro, are feeling emboldened by the prospect of what comes next in U.S.-Cuba relations.

And Cubans on the island have good reason to look ahead to being rid of just one more Castro, namely Raúl, who said he would leave the president’s post in 2018.

Crowds continued to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016, in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

What a difference a U.S. presidential election and the death of a dictator — within 17 days of each other — make. Castro’s demise and the election of Donald Trump have definitely altered the horizon.

Almost two years ago, many of these same exiles were dejected. President Obama had engineered a thaw in the U.S. relationship with Cuba, without really winning any human-rights concessions from Raúl Castro, who at a press conference even denied the existence of political prisoners.

Last year, they somberly watched the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana. This year, they saw President Obama’s visit during which he chided the Cuban president and later attended a baseball game.

Back then, this Editorial Board wrote that these Miami exiles long battle with Fidel Castro should be acknowledged, not dismissed.

As recently as Nov. 7, the day before Mr. Trump was elected, normalization between the two countries seemed bound for expansion, even the end of the embargo seemed possible. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, the expected winner, revealed no sign of undoing President Obama’s historic move at extending an olive branch to Cuba, an enemy since the 1950s. That was going to be a cornerstone of his legacy, and Ms. Clinton would protect it.

But 24 hours later, Mr. Trump was the president-elect and, suddenly, the deal between the United States and Cuba could be up from renegotiation.

Now, Castro’s death gives Miami exiles an emotional boost they have not experienced since they tackled and lost to Castro over Elián Gonzalez more than 16 years ago.

With the most enduring symbol of the Cuban Revolution gone and an incoming president who says he will play hardball, some exiles are feeling giddy. Over the weekend, they announced a massive demonstration in front of the Bay of Pigs monument in Little Havana on Wednesday — just like in the old days.

And on Monday, Mr. Trump gave them even more hope, tweeting that he wants a mulligan in negotiations with Cuba — or he’ll pull the plug on the entire endeavor. That would be lamentable. It’s true that Cuba must agree to loosen its grip on Cubans, but the opening of relations between the two countries should not be narrowed again. Cubans on the island stand to bear the brunt of any such action, as they always have. Yes, Raúl Castro needs to play ball. But as we said in Monday’s editorial, it should be up to Cubans to demand that he make the pitch directly to them.

On this side of the Florida Straits, Miami’s older Cubans can turn their passion to be rid of Fidel to supporting the wishes of Cubans still in the belly of the weakening beast. Plus, they’ve already won — Fidel Castro is gone.