Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

A new generation of Cuban Americans is keeping its history and heritage alive | Opinion

In the 1940s, diplomat Guillermo Belt Ramirez represented Cuba in both the United States and the Soviet Union.
In the 1940s, diplomat Guillermo Belt Ramirez represented Cuba in both the United States and the Soviet Union. Courtesty of Daniel I. Pedreira

As Cubans in the United States mark 60 years of exile with reflection, nostalgia and pain, many focus on the future of the Cuban people’s quest for freedom. I am proud to see that that there is a generation of what Cuban independence leader José Martí referred to as los pinos nuevos — “the new pines.”

These young men and women identify strongly with their Cuban heritage, even though they were not born on the island and, in most cases, have never been there. They are well educated, passionate, dedicated and, in most cases, bilingual, skills that undoubtedly will contribute to achieving the end of the oppressive Castro regime, transitioning to democracy based on freedom, justice and rule of law.

Up-and-coming writer Daniel I. Pedreira is one of these dedicated “pinos nuevos.” Daniel served the constituents of the 27th Congressional district in my Miami office for many years and demonstrated his passion for helping others and preserving history for generations to come. He earned a master’s degree and is currently working on a Ph.D. at my alma mater, Florida International University. He also has published two books on historical figures from pre-Castro Cuba. His dedication to maintaining the lessons and historical facts regarding these prominent men, remind me of my dad, Enrique Ros, who published 19 books on Cuban history and the development of Cuban-American politics in exile.

Daniel’s first book was a biography on Emilio “Millo” Ochoa, a prominent Cuban politician who served as senator and congressman. At the time of his passing in Miami in 2007, Ochoa was the last living signer of Cuba’s revered 1940 Constitution and a senior statesman in the Cuban-exile community. Daniel’s 2013 biography provides a close look into Ochoa’s exceptional life while providing insights into the dynamics of Cuba’s politics during the 1940s and 1950s.

Daniel’s second book recently was published by Lexington Books. “An Instrument of Peace: The Full-Circled Life of Ambassador Guillermo Belt Ramírez,” offers an interesting take on U.S.-Cuba relations before the Castro dictatorship came to power.

Guillermo Belt Ramírez (1905-1989) was one of the most important diplomats of 20th century Cuba. As ambassador, Belt represented his homeland in the United States and in the Soviet Union (1944-1949) as the Cold War turned wartime allies into enemies. He also represented a generation of diplomats who, after bearing witness to the horrors of war, had the resolve to join to create the United Nations (1945) and regional organizations such as the Organization of American States (1948).

Belt’s success in the diplomatic and political spheres was met with the pain and hardship of exile. Faith, family and an unwavering sense of patriotism helped Belt persevere while keeping his passion for Cuba’s democratic values and ideals alive. In doing so, he became a respected and sought-after voice for Cuban exiles in Washington’s diplomatic and government circles.

Several generations ago, Belt himself was a pino nuevo. A graduate of the University of Havana Law School, Belt was appointed Cuba’s secretary of public instruction in 1933 and mayor of Havana in 1935, reaching those offices at the ages of 28 and 29 respectively.

Starting my career as a member of the Florida House of Representatives at the age of 30, I can imagine the excitement and awe that Belt must have felt as a public servant at such a young age. His success in government opened the doors to his diplomatic appointments. His passing in July 1989, almost two months before my own election to Congress, is a symbolic reminder of the generational shifts that have taken place during the past six decades. It also demonstrated that the Cuban people, whether in jail or in exile, would continue to have a voice in our nation’s Capital.

Daniel’s books provide a necessary academic and literary contribution to the broader literature on Cuban history, political science and international relations during the period between the establishment of the Republic of Cuba in 1902 and its demise in 1959.

Given the Castro dictatorship’s manipulation of historical accounts and the inevitable passage of time, key personalities and events in Cuban history, like those that Daniel writes about, run the risk of being lost forever. At the same time, his careful studies of Cuban history and politics help us view current events in Cuba through a nuanced and multi-dimensional lens.

It is fitting that Martí delivered his famous 1891 “Pinos Nuevos” address in Tampa, a city then inhabited by large numbers of Cuban exiles and their descendants. Just a decade later, those pinos nuevos were able to celebrate the birth of an independent and democratic republic with their Cuban brothers and sisters. Like their ancestors before them, today’s pinos nuevos in Miami, Washington, New York and around the world contribute their knowledge and love for their heritage to the pursuit of freedom and justice for the Cuban people.

Daniel I. Pedreira will present his book at at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 9 at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen spent almost 30 years in Congress representing South Florida. She writes a monthly column for the Miami Herald. Send her your comments at HeraldIleana@gmail.com.

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