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Cuban-American Plans for Post-Castro May Hit Roadblocks

  • Steve Mort

Many Cubans living in the United States are drawing up plans to return to the island amid fresh speculation over the health of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Cuban-Americans are keeping a close eye on reports the 80-year-old leader has terminal cancer. But the hopes by many to return to Cuba may be more difficult than anticipated.

Miami is home to some 600,000 Cubans -- some have been here for nearly half a century. And Fidel Castro's poor health has re-energized those planning a return to their homeland in the event of political change.

One man said he would return. "I would love to go back. I would love to possibly try to reclaim my grandmother's old house".

The U.S. government says Cuban-Americans should allow those in Cuba to take charge of a transition.

But a lot of exiles, like the Cuban-American National Foundation's Francisco Hernandez, plan to weigh in. "As part of the Cuban people, we are very much concerned with the future and the destiny of Cuba. And we should do whatever we can, by peaceful means, but whatever we can in order to protect and help the Cuban people in their transit to democracy. We should not wait for all of that to happen in order for us to participate."

And it is that post-Castro participation which is troubling some ordinary Cubans.

"What is being proposed, and that is rule by a minority that has been absent from the country for almost half a century, that is fundamentally unacceptable to the Cuban people," says Luis Martinez-Fernandez, a Cuba expert at The University of Central Florida.

He also says Cuban-Americans may try to reclaim property seized by the government. "It would be very unfair for people who have been outside of Cuba for decades to come back to Cuba and take advantage of the poverty of the Cuban people, and buy their homes cheap and speculate and be able to, you know, have a privilege in terms of establishing a whole range of businesses."

According to Martinez Fernandez, Cubans living in homes given to them by the government more than 30 years ago would be protected under international law from having their homes taken back by the original owners.

The Cuban-American National Foundation's Francisco Hernandez blames Havana for stirring up fears in Cuba over a return of exiles. "A lot of propaganda saying a number of lies about the exile community -- we want to go back there and we want to take over the government and we want to get the people out of their homes where they are, and we want to take all their jobs and all these things. You know, it's completely absurd."

Others though, like José Basulto who formed a group in 1991 to assist raft refugees, criticize advocates of a quick return to Cuba. "I think it would be premature for the people here in Miami to try to jump into a situation which they're not too familiar with and it would create conflicts that would, at least at the beginning, create more problems than they would solve. However, they should have a say in the future of Cuba and I think it should be gradual."

And gradual is how the U.S. government would like it. Washington has backed a plan to create a tribunal to balance the needs of ordinary Cubans and U.S. claimants.

But while many officials believe Fidel Castro is unlikely to return to power, they say the kind of transition envisaged by Cuban-Americans is probably some way off.

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