Aging Cuban exiles voice opinions at Versailles Cafe

Irate Cubans in Miami's Little Havana say they want the embargo to stay

LITTLE HAVANA, Fla. – Versailles Cafe in Miami's Little Havana was quiet early Thursday morning, but about 9 a.m. a crowd was protesting in front of the restaurant again and reporters were back.

Miami has the largest population of Cubans in the country. There were reporters from as far as Japan trying to capture the scene. Versailles has been the political epicenter of the exiled community of the 1960s and 70s for more nearly four decades.

Cuban retirees regularly show up for their morning Cuban coffee, known as "colada," and to get updates on the political situation in Havana. After the historic announcement of change in foreign policy, the crowd was at the restaurant passed midnight.

After drinking their coffee Thursday, about a dozen tried to get the attention of reporters with flags, signs and shouts in Spanish. They want President Barack Obama's administration to know that they will support the embargo until there is a democratic government in place in their beloved island.

Among them were former political prisoners and men who once risked their lives as they plotted against Fidel Castro. Near the fast service window, there was a man wearing a bow tie and a hat. He was holding a sign with a message for Obama.

"Obama: Cuban peoples need liberty and food," the sign said. "Can you help??"


The prevalent opinion among irate Cubans at the iconic restaurant  was that Obama had betrayed them. A man shouted persistently for hours and said that Republicans had never betrayed Cuban-Americans, he mentioned the 2016 presidential election would be their opportunity for revenge. 

Protesters were also shouting signs of support for Venezuelans. There were spontaneous shouts in Spanish: "Down with Nicolas Maduro!"

On Wednesday, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, 67, was at the cafe, where there were more reporters than protesters. Regalado said that he would do everything in his power to prevent Cuban President Raul Castro from setting up an embassy in Miami.

A few members of Vigilia Mambisa, an anti-communist group said they would do the same.

"Obama Administration Conspiracy with Castro Terrorist." Vigilia Mambisa's Miguel Saavedra's sign read.  He and another man shouted: "Obama a coward! Coward, coward, coward!"

Drivers on Calle Ocho honked as they passed by Versailles Cafe, which had a large crowd due to a scheduled out-door boxing event with Guillermo Rigondeaux, a Cuban Olympic gold medalist who belongs to the wave of Cuban athletes who leave the island with dreams of making it big in the U.S.

Among the crowd following Rigondeaux there were more quiet Cuban migrants, who said they had arrived in the 1990s, and were not opposed to the new policy.

Cuban-American families in Miami are often divided on the issue, which may cause controversy during the holiday season. Greg Pinelo, a Cuban-American strategist for the Democrats, posted an irreverent tweet Thursday morning.

"One more time: The crowd of old men at Cafe Versailles is not representative of all Cuban-Americans," Pinelo said.

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U.S. on path to end decades of hostility toward Cuba