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03/13/2012

Contemplating Cuba

We are going to Cuba.  It's taken weeks of preparation.  A trip to Cuba involves first getting permission from the government and that involves lots of paperwork.  But now our team is in place.  There's me.  I grew up in South Florida- home to many Cuban exiles.  Daniela Royes is our producer.

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She is fluent in both Spanish and Portuguese, and covered Pope John Paul II's visit 14 years ago.  She will have a unique perspective on how things have changed since then.   

 

But it’s our photographer, Gus Alonso, who has the most unique story among us. He was born in Cuba and left when he was just 2 years old.  His mother has told him the story of the family’s exodus many times.  His grandfather left Cuba in 1961 soon after the revolution.  But his mother and father remained.  They decided to leave when his older brother turned 14 and was forced to enter Cuban military service.  The family knew it was time to leave.  His grandfather paid $28,000 for their passage on a boat from Cuba to Florida.

 

Those of us who grew up in South Florida know it well.  It was called the Mariel Boat Lift.  It was 1980 and the economy in Cuba was at rock bottom and frustrations on the island were escalating. Thousands left Cuba via Mariel Harbor for Miami or the Florida Keys.  The Carter Administration allowed it, until many grew concerned that Fidel Castro was using the boat lift to rid Cuba of its prisoners and mentally ill.   

 

Gus’s mother still vividly recalls the knock at the door  on the night they were supposed to leave.  She didn't know if it was the government ready to arrest them, or someone taking them to the docks. They had a single suitcase filled mostly with determination.  Even though Cuba is just 90 miles south of Florida, the journey took 12 hours and young Gus was sick almost the entire time.

 

He spent a few months in Miami, then the family moved to Washington Heights and eventually settled in West New York. 

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Gus is now a freelance photographer with WABC, his older brother is a photographer with Univision. 

 

Gus has never been back to his homeland and still has two uncles there.  We hope for a family reunion. Of course, Gus is fluent in Spanish- Cuban Spanish- and will be a great asset on this trip. 

 

So back to the preparations. We are doing interviews this week with those who know far more about Cuba than I.  I am a willing student and would love to hear from you.

 

Please post a comment below or visit our Eyewitness News Facebook page and let us know your thoughts or questions regarding Cuba. (Just don’t ask me for cigars)  And stay tuned, this week we will be posting more blogs as Eyewitness News gets ready to go to Cuba.      

Comments

Leonor Lipari

I am so looking forward to this story Diana! My father was Cuban and told me so many stories about his life there and his experiences when he went back to visit in early 1960. He almost was not allowed back in the U.S. Thank you for participating in this journey and for bringing Cuba to us here who cannot yet visit there.

Diane

Don't go to the tourist traps... GO TO WHERE THE REAL cubans live... where the cameras are not allowed to go... those who live in poverty because they can only get a certain amount of groceries per month since they are not part of the party... its a beautyful island, but the poverty is always hidden... I know, my family has brought videos and pictures of where the relatives I still have there live and it breaks my heart... the day Castro kicks the bucket I'm wearing red from head to toe

Bob Zajko

Saw your blog linked from the main ABCNEWS page. I'm also heading to Cuba next week for the Pope visit, running a flyaway uplink dish for EBU in Havana and Santiago. We've got a 14 hour van ride taking our equipment down to Santiago actually. I'm looking forward to my trip too, I've never been, but I've always wanted to go. I know in a few years as the restrictions loosen its going to look like South Miami there. This is a great opportunity to see the country.

Betty

Hi Diana,
I am a first generation Cuban American. Both my parents are Cuban and they too fled Cuba right after Castro came into power. My parents didn't meet until they both were living in New Jersey, but both had to leave aunts, uncles and many cousins and family members to come here.
They were both lucky in that all of their immediate family members were also able to leave and so I was lucky to have the majority of my family while I grew up in NJ.
One of the most important factors of growing up with Cuban born parents is the pride they have in their native land and how they always had hope of one day being able to go back to a free Cuba and reunite with their family.
Unfortunately it has never happened and I don't know if it will before my parents pass away...but they are always grateful for what the U.S. has given them however, they remain forever 100% Cuban to the end.

George

I am happy to see that the Pope is going to Cuba and to see Americans visit the island.

I am the decendant of Holocaust Survivor and family who were welcomed to Cuba to live. My mother was born in Cuba and left in 1952 to come to the USA. I am born in the USA but would give the world to visit Cuba and see the remaining family who remained. Many have died and are buried there. They refuse to leave because they are thankful to live in a country that opened its door during a dark period in history. The world said no to my family and Cuba said yes.

I have hoped to see the doors open in Cuba and to travel freely. I hope the Papal visit will convince both sides to open the gates so families can visit each other freely.

May your journey be save and enjoy the natural beauty of Cuba.

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