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Cuban Exiles Feel Strain, Not Celebration on Revolution's Anniversary


Cuba's government is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the victory of guerrilla forces led by Fidel Castro over dictator Fulgencio Batista. For the nearly two million Cubans who have fled the Communist-ruled island since then, the day evokes difficult memories.

Nearly half of Cubans who have fled the Communist nation in the past 50 years have settled in the Miami area.

Some sought to leave through official channels, often waiting years for approval from Cuba's government. Others escaped on smuggler's boats or defected while on approved travel outside the island. For many Cubans, the details of the ordeals matter less than the knowledge they are free from Communist rule.

The hosts of Miami-based Radio Republica discussed the latest efforts of Cubans to leave the island during a program that was beamed into Cuba this week. They said Cubans were lined up at the Spanish embassy in Havana, hoping to take advantage of a new law that grants citizenship to the grandchildren of Spanish immigrants.

Julio Estorino, who directs the radio show for the pro-democracy group Cuban Democratic Directorate, says Spanish citizenship offers the hope of living in a place with freedom and rights. He says it is sad that so many Cubans see no hope if they remain in Cuba.

For many Cubans the United States has given opportunities for education, work and travel they would not have in Cuba.

Miami restaurant owner Ailin Fernandez left Cuba more than 20 years ago. She longs to return home and open a restaurant in the beach town of Varadero, but not under the current government.

She says there are opportunities here for people who work hard, but the same is not true in Cuba.

Others, like Giselle Palacios, 18, have come to Miami to escape political persecution on the island. As the daughter of prominent dissidents, she fled after being kicked out of college for her political activities.

She says she hopes to finish her studies in Miami and return home someday to help rebuild the country. She says all Cubans should be able to go home.

Giselle's parents remain in Cuba, where her father was recently jailed for his political involvement. For her, the policies of Cuba's revolutionary government have meant the forced separation of her family, as well as many others.

Comedian Bonco Quinongo left Cuba nine years ago to advance his career. His decision prompted the government to label him a deserter, making it nearly impossible to return home to visit his two daughters and his ailing father.

He says he may have found success by leaving Cuba, but there is something else that is missing, and it pains him deeply.

Like many Cuban exiles, Quinongo is not following the 50th anniversary celebration planned in Havana. The day stirs difficult memories of what has been lost in the past five decades.

He says the word revolution is supposed to mean renewal and progress, but in the case of Cuba, it really means a rejection of those things.

When Fidel Castro claimed victory 50 years ago, few expected his revolutionary forces to remain in power as long as they have. For many Cuban exiles, the question is how much longer can the Communist government continue.

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