Trump’s Miami visit reveals added complexity to exile politics

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Opponents of President Donald Trump gather outside the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. Photo by Julienne Gage.

In Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, hardline discourse against the Castros has been the norm for decades. As such, it’s little surprise Cuban-Americans cheered and posed for press photos as they left President Donald Trump’s Cuba policy speech at the Manuel Artime Theater Friday.

“The more they can squeeze the regime the better,” declared María Elena Alpízar-Ariosa, a Cuban emigre who sought exile in Miami ten years ago and says she represents the Miami chapter of Cuba’s Ladies in White dissident group.

But times have changed, and in recent years, demonstrations showing support for an opening with Cuba have become more frequent.

A block away from the theater, about 60 more anti-Castro hardliners engaged in a face off with nearly 100 counter-demonstrators displaying signs that read “Hands off Cuba” and “Trump: Don’t Turn the clock back!”

Lorenzo Cañizares, an organizer with the Labor Community Alliance and a Cuban exile who has lived in Miami since 1962, scoffed at the idea that Trump’s rollback represents progress, or that it’s in the best interest of the GOP.

“Cuba is a population of more than 11 million people, and there are more than 500,000 private businesses in Cuba that didn’t exist before the process that Obama began,” he said. “There are a lot Republicans in favor of normalization with Cuba because there are a lot of American farmers working on deals there.”

Miami resident Badili Jones agreed. “This announcement [Trump] made about Cuba is very disingenuous. That this policy is just supposedly impacting state-owned business is crazy because the Cuban economy is not broken up like that,” he said.

He noted that entrepreneurs trying to run a small bed-and-breakfast or a restaurant have to buy some of their goods from state-owned agencies, and so the more the U.S. government squeezes the state, the more the private sector suffers.

But while he says a tightening of travel restrictions complicates opportunities from ordinary Cuban and American citizens to participate in exchanges and diplomacy, he says he’s confident many Americans will continue looking for ways to forge ties with Cubans on the island.

“When people want to build relationships, I don’t think powerful people like Donald Trump ultimately can stop us,” Jones said.

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