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Stories of Cuban Exiles in Miami Vary, But Desire for Democracy Consistent

The personal stories in Miami's large Cuban community are as varied as the individuals who tell them. Some fled the island decades ago at the start of Fidel Castro's rule, others are more recent arrivals, and some only know the island through the stories of their parents. But a consistent theme among all of them is the desire for democracy for Cuba.

Those who fled Cuba under President Fidel Castro talk about the restrictions and hardships of daily life, the oppression and lack of freedom, and how people are afraid to say or do anything that could be interpreted in the wrong way and reported to the authorities.

The exiles say they want the island to be free, and do not want Mr. Castro's brother and designated successor, Raul Castro, to assume leadership after Fidel.

After an ailing Mr. Castro temporarily ceded power to Raul at the end of July, both the young and old in Miami's Cuban neighborhood of Little Havana rejoiced over what they hoped was the end of Fidel's rule.

Henry Perez was among them. He came to the United States as a student in 1959, the year Mr. Castro seized power from dictator Fulgencio Batista. He has never returned.

"At the beginning everybody was happy, everyone believed Castro was going to have a democracy, get rid of Batista, and all this stuff, but after I was here many years it turned out that he was 100 times worse than Batista. He was a dictator. He was a totalitarian dictator," said Perez.

He adds Raul as just as bad as Fidel.

Antonio Jorge, a professor of economics and international relations at Florida International University, says the Cuban government exercises what he calls an unrelenting oppression on the Cuban people. He says Raul is not a solution.

"An overwhelming majority of the Cuban exile community wish for Cuba to have a clean new start, meaning by that, the immediate re-establishment of politically democratic institutions and of a market-type of economy," he said.

But as Mr. Castro's rule stretched into decades, some exiles, including Dom Garcia who left in 1966 with his wife and two small children, say their life is now in the United States, although they continue to long for a liberated homeland.

"The dream for me [is] that Cuba would be a free country very soon, I hope," he said.

Ian Vasquez with the CATO institute in Washington says both the younger and older generation of Cuban Americans are committed to the goal of democracy on the island, but they may have different views on how to achieve it.

"Even now, the younger generation tends to be more open to ending the embargo and to normalizing commercial and travel relations with Cuba, much more so than the older generation that actually fled Cuba," he said.

Eighteen-year-old Raul Bussot, who was displaying his artwork during a recent festival in Little Havana, favors the easing of U.S. restrictions against the island. He left the island when he was four, and says it is now expensive and difficult to travel back.

"I'd like my homeland to be more accessible to me and to everyone who would like to go back," he said.

Jorge, with Florida International University, says the exiles do not have a specific person that they would like to see lead the island after Fidel. Right now, he says, they are just focused on the goal of a free and democratic Cuba.