Two Mindsets On Improving U.S.-Cuba Ties

Artwork at the Cuban Corner restaurant in Rockville.
WAMU/Armando Trull
Artwork at the Cuban Corner restaurant in Rockville.

The Cuban Corner restaurant in Rockville plays old time Cuban music. The walls are festooned with names of prominent Cuban-Americans who have made it big in the world of politics music and business. In a corner there’s a painted mural depicting the heads of Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevara in frying pans.

“To remove Castro from the list of terrorists is so immoral in my opinion because we are not accusing him of the crimes he has committed against humanity,” says owner Joaquin Cabrejas.

Cabrejas left Cuba in 1962 and has never returned. He has no family there. His distrust of the Castro government is typical of older Cuban-Americans who had to flee Cuba with little more than the clothes on their backs.

“I’m all for trying to improve relations as long as we support those dissidents that are struggling to change things in Cuba,” he says.

While Cuban-Americans remain divided when it comes to normalizing ties with the Castro regime, a shift is underway according to a recent poll by research and communications firm Bendixen-Amandi, conducted in March, before the U.S. removed Cuba from its list of states that sponsor terrorism.

Forty percent still oppose improving relations. That group is typically comprised of older Cuban exiles who left the island prior to 1980. Younger Cubans, especially those born in this country, are more inclined to support the rapprochement: They now comprise 51 percent according to the poll.

It’s the first time a majority of Cubans in the U.S. have favored normalizing relations between the two countries.

In D.C., the building on 16th Street Northwest that houses the Cuban Interests Section is one step closer to becoming a full-fledged embassy. Not far away, at the Cuban Cafe in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, there are no frying Castro heads and the Cuban music is hipper.

“There has never been any evidence that Cuba has ever supported terrorism of any kind,” says Cuban-American attorney Jose Pertierra. “The United States has always known it it was placed there for political reasons.”

Pertierra, who has close links to the Cuban government, argues that normal relations will benefit residents of both countries.

“Those of us who want to see family, who want to see friends, who want to see our country, are very happy,” he says. “We’ve been waiting a very, very, very long time for this.”