Friday, June 29, 2007

Puerto Rico's Cubans Long to Go Home

Puerto Rico's Cubans Long to Go Home
By MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press Writer
12:21 AM PDT, June 29, 2007

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Exiled from Cuba after quitting Fidel Castro's
Cabinet, Manolo Ray moved to Puerto Rico, led a resistance movement
against Castro in the early 1960s and gradually settled into a career
running an international engineering company.

As his one-time mentor loosens his grip on power, Ray -- Castro's first
public works minister -- is hoping for another chance to help his native

"It's my homeland, and it has missed out on 50 years of progress," said
the white-haired Ray, 83, who hopes to live to see the day when he can
return and "help every way I can."

There are 20,000 Cuban immigrants in Puerto Rico, and many long to help
their native land.

Puerto Rico's Cubans number far fewer -- and are less hostile to Castro
-- than Miami's famously outspoken exile community, some 650,000-strong.
Some say life on the U.S. island territory, with its similar climate and
culture, has helped ease the bitterness of exile.

"Politics isn't the same obsession here that it is up there,"
56-year-old emigre Manolo Mendez said during a break from a squash game
at the Casa Cuba social club.

Described by 19th-century Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tio as
"two wings of the same bird," Cuba and Puerto Rico were both seized by
the United States in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. But their paths
diverged -- one becoming a communist state, the other a U.S. territory.

Still, they are both Caribbean islands with a shared language. Their
cultures are so intertwined that both claim credit for salsa music, a
blend of European and African rhythms. Their flags are almost identical,
except Puerto Rico's has red stripes and Cuba's has blue.

At the beachfront Casa Cuba, the clack of dominoes and Cuban accents can
be heard as migrants, many in traditional guayabera shirts, gather to
gossip beneath portraits of tiara-wearing beauty queens.

Some of the Cubans who fled Castro's revolution brought investment,
including members of the Bacardi family whose rum came to be promoted as
a Puerto Rican product. Others found success in construction and other
industries, and want to apply their experience in their homeland.

Puerto Rico's Senate in March approved a measure deputizing Cubans to
channel public and private aid to Cuba in the event of a democratic
transition. Cuban migrants could provide capital and professional
expertise to universities, businesses and other sectors accustomed to
operating in a controlled economy.

The proposal, developed in meetings with exile groups, also aims to seek
opportunities for Puerto Rico if Cuba opens to U.S. investment.

"We should prepare ourselves not only to help where we can, but also to
participate in what we can," said Orlando Parga, the Senate vice
president who proposed the measure.

The legislation, which is expected to pass in the House and be signed by
Gov. Anibal Acevedo Vila, also seeks to gauge how a more open Cuba could
affect Puerto Rico's economy by competing for U.S. tourists.

But even when Castro dies, there is no guarantee of abrupt change.
Havana's government has deviated little from its course since the
80-year-old president temporarily handed power to his brother Raul last
July after intestinal surgery.

"We can all make plans but nobody knows exactly what's going to happen,"
said Mayra Montero, a San Juan-based author who chronicled the
rollicking 1950s Havana of her childhood in her recent novel, "Dancing
to Almendra."

Ray, who helped build the Havana Hilton and spent nearly a year in
Castro's Cabinet, said from his office in colonial Old San Juan that the
emigres, when they return, must be careful to avoid being seen as
carpetbaggers out to make a buck -- and should work to improve life on
the island.

"Along with development, you need to keep the poor engaged and
participating," Ray said. "Without that, we won't accomplish anything.",1,4753524.story?coll=sns-ap-world-headlines

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