Restoring diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba has long been a source of debate in New York City’s Cuban-American community, the second largest in the U.S. outside Miami.
President Barack Obama’s announcement to re-establish relations with the communist island fueled the discussion once more on Wednesday.
"I am very disappointed, very disappointed," said Jose Lorenzo, whose family fled the Castro regime five years ago. “I don’t want more communist system in Cuba. And now it’s forever.”
Obama's plan includes reopening the U.S. Embassy in Havana and loosening economic and travel restrictions.
Alberto Rodriguez, 36, said he is also skeptical of the renewed relations with Cuba.
“Does the average Cuban still have a future?” said Rodriguez. “Are they really going to allow Cubans to travel freely and organize unions?”
A member of the militant Alpha 66, one of the first groups of Cubans in the U.S. to mount organized opposition to Castro dictatorship, Silverio Rodriguez, told NBC 4 New York he didn't trust the system.
“I don’t trust the Castro brothers,” he said.
Meanwhile, others remained more hopeful that the end of the 53-year-old embargo will encourage democratization in their homeland and give them better access to loved ones.
Tuzel Palacios, whose brother is still in Cuba, said she has been praying for the day travel restrictions would be lifted.
“That’s what we've all been waiting for, for a lot of years,” Palacios said.
The first step was the release of State Department contractor Alan Gross, who spent the last five years in a Cuban prison. As part of the deal, three Cubans convicted of conspiring against the U.S. were released after 15 years in prison. The U.S. also got back a top American spy imprisoned for 20 years in Havana.
Colonel Rick Fuentes of the New Jersey State Police said he hopes the new policy will allow officials to extradite fugitive Joanne Chesimard from Cuba. Chesimard was convicted of killing state trooper Warner Forrester in 1973. She escaped from prison and fled to Cuba.
“This is an open wound, not just for the New Jersey State Police, but for the Forrester family,” Fuentes said.
Under the new policy, the U.S. will also review and likely remove Cuba from the list of terrorist nations. Banking will be easier in Cuba as well.
But the embargo will not be lifted until Congress votes on it, and there is already a contingent preparing to fight it.
“It’s fallacy to believe that Cuba will reform because an American president opens his hands and the Castro brothers will suddenly unclench their fists,” New Jersey U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said.