Six months have passed since Cuban President Fidel Castro became ill and transferred power to his brother. As time passes with no public appearances and little information about the state of his health, much speculation is focused on what a post-Castro Cuba might be like. The Cuban exile community in Miami has been intensely monitoring developments, and VOA's Lisa Ferdinando spoke with some of them about their hopes for their homeland and the possibility they may return to the home they fled many years ago.
Thirty-nine-year-old Ernesto Seijas keeps busy with his restaurant in the heart of Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, but the situation in his native Cuba is never far from his mind.
He says he does not wish ill for Mr. Castro, and is not rejoicing over the health problems that forced the long-time Cuban president to temporarily cede power in July to his younger brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro.
What Seijas says he wants for Cuba is often repeated by other exiles, as well. "I want to see a Cuba free. That's my dream, with the same opportunities that any free country in the world has," he said.
Seijas came to the United States from Cuba when he was 25, with no money, he says, only a dream of owning a business, something he says would have been impossible under the strict government controls in Cuba.
But, now that he is busy with his business in Miami, he says, it would be difficult to permanently return to his homeland, although he would like to travel back and forth, and help the country in any way possible, once Fidel Castro is gone.
Many other Cuban emigres have also put down roots in Miami. Cuban expert Hans de Salas-del Valle of the University of Miami says, as decades have passed, more Cuban exiles have become assimilated in the United States, and may be less inclined to seek out permanent residence on the island.
"Certainly, time has taken its toll. It's nearly 50 years since Fidel Castro rode triumphantly into Havana. It would be naïve to imagine the great majority of Cuban-Americans returning to Cuba."
He also says there is the question of whether Cuban-Americans would try to reclaim the property that was expropriated under Fidel Castro, a move which he says may make Cubans on the island resistant or fearful of exiles returning.
Besides, De Salas-del Valle says if the new government in Havana is headed by Raul Castro, it may not have a warm welcome for Cuban exiles. "Raul Castro is not interested in Cuban-Americans becoming influential power brokers in Cuba's future. Selectively, the regime may be willing to do business with individual Cuban-American investors, but it would be under Raul Castro's terms. The next few years, literally, will be critical in determining and defining what role, if any, Cuban-Americans will play in the future of Cuba," he said.
Shop owner Jackie Sarracino, who left the island nearly four decades ago, favors the establishment of economic ties between the United States and Cuba. She and her husband run a Cuban-themed gift shop and art gallery in Little Havana. "Any kind of movement, any kind of business, any kind of infusion into that society is going to be a change for the better. If we have opportunities to do business there, they're going to have a huge opportunity to be able to thrive and live and grow," he said.
Thirty-two year-old club owner Fabio Diaz compares his homeland to a disaster zone, and says the minds of the people have been ruined by the decades of communist thinking, but he still is optimistic. "I have hope. I have big hope that everything can change," he said.
The Cuban government is guarding Fidel Castro's health condition as a state secret. The prolonged absence of the 80-year-old has created rampant speculation, but for now, all the exiles can do is wait for news from the island.