Cuban community split on restoring relations

Posted at 8:27 PM, Mar 20, 2016

Many of the Tampa Bay area's thousands of Cuban Americans are keeping close tabs on the historic developments in relations between the two countries and now the president's visit to the island nation. 

But the community remains largely divided on whether what's happening is a good thing, or a big mistake.

The sizzle of hot meat and Cuban sandwiches made fresh are the makings of the 5th annual Cuban Sandwich Festival in Ybor City.  It's an event that signifies much more than delicious food.

"Definitely got to keep this historic culture alive.  Not only the Cuban sandwich but also cigars, the culture of our Latin, Cuban people, and the history.  It's the history of Tampa," said Victor Padilla.

Padilla thinks now is a time to celebrate that heritage more than ever, as President Obama visits Cuba to push for fully restored relations and lifting the long-standing embargo.

"If people can put aside past prejudice, they can say, 'hey. Let's see our country and what it's about over there,'" said Padilla.

While some are full of optimism about what open borders with Cuba could mean for the future, others worry that the US is entering dangerous territory by working with what they see as a corrupt government abusive of its people.  Those fears were evident in protests that broke out in both countries Sunday.

"I believe you should start with the basic human rights.  If you have somebody in prison for 20 years because they want to feed their family, then I believe you need to start there.  You don't need to start with taking baseball teams and so forth," said Miguel Valladares with Papi's Kitchen.  

As the debate continues on how the US moves forward, those here believe whatever happens, Cuba deserves a better future.

"Hopefully you want what's best for the entire country," said Valladares.