Cuba Power Transfer Met With a Yawn in Miami

Twenty years ago, news that Fidel Castro had been replaced as president of Cuba would have brought wild celebration to Miami's pining exile community, and fevered preparation to return to the homeland they left behind.

But Little Havana appeared to greet Sunday's transfer of power to Castro's younger brother Raul Castro with a shrug and a yawn. There was more than a little disappointment that the moment Cuban exiles had awaited for nearly half a century held scant hope of a shift away from communism on the Caribbean island.

"Castro is still going to have the power. Cuba is going to be the same and nobody is going to have freedom in Cuba," said Eduardo Migueltorena, a Miami real estate agent who came to Florida in the 1980 Mariel boatlift.

There were no televisions or radios tuned to news programs at the Versailles or La Carreta restaurants, popular Little Havana hangouts for the Cuban American community, some 650,000 strong in the Miami area.

And there were no demonstrators in the streets as there were in 2006 when Castro handed power temporarily to his brother due to ill health.

Even the surprise appointment of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a Communist ideologue and old-guard revolutionary, as second-in-command, was met with disinterest.

"Under the Castro government, it doesn't matter who is the deputy. Maybe they are afraid if they change too much they will lose power," Juan Fiol, 66, a citrus wholesaler who left Cuba in 1961, said with a shrug.

The heartland of opposition to Fidel Castro and his communist government, Miami's Little Havana is the longtime home of the first exiles who left after the 1959 revolution, and now, their children and grandchildren.

Many of the earliest arrivals thought Castro would be overthrown and they would return quickly. Nearly half a century later they are still gazing wistfully across the Florida Straits.

"Since day one I have waited for this day, looked forward to this day," said Jaime de Hombre, 69, who came to Miami in 1959. "It's disappointing, it's disappointing. I would like to see him (Fidel Castro) suffer."

"Better if Castro dies," his wife, Gloria, added.

As Castro outlived many in the older generation of exiles, the passion waned among Miami Cubans and for some, the fervent desire to return to the island faded as their roots were buried more deeply in Miami, 200 miles to the north.

"We are here. We are staying," said Victoria, 76, who left Cuba in 1959. "What are we going to do? Our children are here, our grandchildren are here."

"Maybe 15 years ago you said, 'maybe we can go back.' But not now. It's too late," said her friend Maggie, who came in 1961.

For the younger generation of Cubans, Miami is home.

"I'm American. That's what I am," said Rick Wong, 49, whose family moved to the United States in 1963. "The kids have been here for so long they are American."