MIAMI (AP) — When Cuban hunger striker Guillermo Farinas arrived in Miami, he said he was prepared to face rejection from radical members of the Cuban-American community who do not believe in pacific opposition.
The reaction has been far different. When he went to the Versailles restaurant, a traditional gathering spot for older exiles in the city's Little Havana neighborhood, he was embraced. During an event at Miami's iconic Freedom Tower, he was applauded.
"The love the exiles in Miami have shown us makes us discard what the government, over 54 years, has planted in our minds," he said.
It's still too early to know what, if any impact, the travels by Cuba's most prominent dissidents will have back on the communist-run island. Since January, when Cuban leaders stopped requiring all citizens to obtain "exit permits," the dissidents have met not only with exiles, but also with U.S., European and Latin American leaders. In the past, the exit permit was routinely denied to "counterrevolutionaries." Some dissidents are still not allowed to leave.
At the very least, though, in Miami, the dissidents have stirred up a conversation about Cuba's opposition and the misperceptions each side has formed about the other during the five decades of divisive policy and rhetoric that have followed Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution.
Farinas and others have remarked about the exile community they were raised to imagine: A "Miami mafia" that wanted to return to the island and take back the houses they left behind.
"There are many people who are afraid," acknowledged Berta Soler, a leader of the Ladies in White dissident group, in a talk before a group of exiles Monday. "We are here to be able to go there and tell those people they are wrong, not to listen to what the Cuban government says, because those in exile are going to rebuild Cuba, not take away land or homes from anyone."
The changed viewpoints are reflective of an evolving exile community, one that now resoundingly believes change must come from within Cuba, not outside it.
Members of the community have largely assimilated to life in the U.S., rising to some of the highest positions in business and politics. And yet they have preserved their roots: Walk down any street in Miami, and Cuban coffee, food and the Spanish language are still in abundance.
As dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez put it after arriving in Miami last month, she discovered a "Cuba outside Cuba."
It is not the same Cuba as the one she and other dissidents live in today.
"For them, it's not so much nostalgic as something they don't know," said Alejandro Barreras, who runs a blog in Miami called On Two Shores. "A side of the country they never knew."
Sanchez and other dissidents have emphasized the similarities between Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits and called for unity. But after several generations of immigration and life in the U.S., ideas about Cuban identity and culture are considerably more diverse.
Barreras is six years older than Sanchez and said when he came to the U.S. he discovered many Cuban things he never knew on the island.
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