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FLASHBACK: Lighter restrictions will enable locals to travel to Cuba

Reported by: Sandra Gonzalez
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Updated: 12/17/2014 9:46 am
Originally posted Nov. 9, 2012

LAS VEGAS (KSNV — More than 20,000 Cuban-Americans live in the Las Vegas Valley, and soon many of them may be able to more freely visit with relatives and friends from Cuba, without the strict restrictions that have been imposed for decades.

At the Florida Café, local Cubans in Las Vegas like to hang out, eat good authentic Cuban meals and talk about the small country that connects them.

Juan Rodriguez works there. He’s been Las Vegas since the mid-1990s when he left Cuba. He expected Vegas to be different; more like it was in the 1950s and was surprised. But he was determined to change his life and leave Cuba behind.

“I was like 24 years old when I left Cuba. Throughout the history of my country I didn't see any development as a country, and a lot of restriction, like travel and democracy,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is of a younger generation of Cubans in the Valley. Many Cubans started coming in the 1950s, after the revolution in Cuba led by Fidel Castro. Otto Merida arrived in the 1970s after traveling across the country, starting in Florida. Now he’s the President of the Latin Chamber of Commerce.

“One of the active Hispanic clubs was the Cuban Circles. The Cubans were organized and had a place that they would meet on a regular basis,” Merida said.

Horacio Pineda came to the United States for love. He pretended to be mentally unstable in order to be reunited with his wife, who was in Las Vegas. When he arrived, he worked in the hotel industry in refrigeration and air conditioning. Now he runs his own business. He’s proud to be living his American dream.

“I go to work for myself. I’m going to get my own money and according to my ability and my knowledge and my skill,” Pineda said.

Pineda, Merida and Rodriguez are all keeping an eye on the activity out of Cuba, especially the recent announcement on easing travel restrictions for Cubans to the United States.

While they welcome it, they also acknowledge Cubans have been able to visit before. This would just make it easier for them stay longer without penalty. One thought is perhaps this would cause a Cuban exodus.

“Remember if you are in Cuba, if you are a senior, you are a person that doesn't have that many skills, the Cuban government is supporting you and is giving a job. Cuba has this so-called full employment so what happens if I can get rid of those individuals and make it more costly for the American government,” Merida said.

“There is no work for the people, too many people in the street and they don't have work,” Pineda said.

Juan Rodriguez says with the recent direct flight to Cuba, and now the easing of travel restrictions, he hopes an olive branch is extending between the countries.

“Who knows what's going on behind closed doors? But the reality there is more opening between Cuba and the United States. And I hope it's better for the best of both countries,” Rodriguez said.

And while Rodriguez plans to visit his mother for the first time since he left and introduce her to her grandson, he believes Cubans being able to more easily visit the U.S. will be good for families; especially since so many have been scarred by years of separation by a mere 90 miles of water.

It’s more difficult for Americans to travel to Cuba. Most need permission and cannot visit simply as a tourist on vacation. These eased travel restrictions will go into effect in mid-January.


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