Locals with ties to Cuba say new president means little change

Posted at 10:32 PM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 23:32:55-04

For the first time in nearly sixty years, Cuba has a new president that does not have the last name of Castro.

On Thursday, Raul Castro picked Miguel Diaz-Canel to be the new president of Cuba and leader of the communist party.

He is expected to serve two, five-year terms, possibly serving until 2031.

Rafael García, the owner of Cafe Habana City, left Cuba to come to Lafayette in 1998. He was a political activist and has not since returned to his native country.

"When I was at the airport leaving Cuba, I got approached by two political police and the last two-three words that I hear from them was, ‘go to the US and don’t come back, if you come back you’re going to be in trouble,’" he recounted.

Garcia escaped the communist regime and does not believe this change in name will bring much change to the island.

"A guy that was born after the revolution so he doesn’t know anything about capitalism or before Castro. These elections that are in Cuba, there is only one party that is allowed to be elected. They do not respect private property. They don’t let you have a big successful business because they don’t need that," said García.

For Larry Sides, he’s gotten to know a different side of the country. He’s been there 28 times, photographing its people and learning about life on the island.

"Anybody who thinks that everybody in Cuba wants a change is mistaken. They believe that Cuba is for Cubans and shouldn’t be owned by other countries and shouldn’t be managed or controlled or governed by other countries," said Sides.

Sides says that he believes "opening up Cuba is the best thing that can help from the United States." "If they want to have an impact on Cuba then let people like me and people like you and everybody go down there," he continued saying that he sees Miguel Diaz- Canel, Cuba’s new president, as a small step forward.

"I think he’s one of those that is probably progressive, in terms of allowing Cuba to move more and more progressive toward a better economy and toward people being able to work independently and privately," he said.

But like García, he still has some concerns.

"How can we get to a point where my friends that are surgeons will make more than $66 a month and those are the highest paid people that I met in Cuba," Sides said.

For García, living through what he says are the struggles of a constricting government leaves him with little hope.

"As long as we have a political party there, the Cuban communist party, as long as we have that and we don’t have space for a different party, for opposition and go into elections without a different name. As long as we don’t have that, we won’t see change I don’t have hope," he said.