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Cubans who once feared Trump see him now as their last hope

Cubans who once feared Trump see him now as their last hope
BY FRANCO ORDOÑEZ
fordonez@mcclatchydc.com

NUEVO LAREDO, MEXICO
Sitting on a dusty curb in this Mexican city just steps from the U.S.
border, Eliannes Matos Salazar thinks back to when President Barack
Obama visited Cuba 10 months ago.

Like many Afro-Cubans, the 32-year-old shopkeeper from Guantánamo was
inspired by the president’s speech about change and the bridge between
the nations. She admired Michelle Obama’s grace and the couple’s rise to
such a high position of power.

But that was before Jan. 12, when Obama canceled the two-decade-old “wet
foot, dry foot” Cuba immigration policy and ripped Matos from her
husband – who had been allowed to cross into the United States before
the policy’s cancellation, while she was kept back. It ended her dream
of life in the United States.

“I thought he could help us,” she said of Obama. “He went to Cuba and
spoke very well. But now – with this – I won’t forgive him.”

Wet-foot, dry-foot had given Matos and other Cubans an extraordinary
advantage over migrants from other countries by allowing any Cubans who
touched American soil to enter, even if they had no visas. With its
cancellation, Cubans without valid humanitarian and asylum claims face
the same hurdles to U.S. entry as any undocumented migrant from, for
example, Mexico or El Salvador.

The policy’s cancellation turned Cuban immigration on its head. But it
did more than that. In a flash, it turned Obama’s hero image into one of
revulsion among Cuban migrants. And it paid major dividends to the
reputation of Donald Trump, whose tough talk on Cuba policy and
immigration had made him a figure of fear. No more.

“Trump. Trump. Trump,” a group of about two dozen Cubans chanted during
a demonstration at the end of the International Bridge #1, the span that
links Nuevo Laredo with Laredo, Texas, across the Rio Grande.

“We beg you Donald Trump. Please help us,” read a sign held by Henry
Valdez of Mantanzas.

Valdez, 25, had traveled months to get to this point only to be turned
away at the last hour – one of hundreds, if not thousands, who now look
to Trump to let them in.

Ironically, they’d been rushing to get into the United States before he
was sworn in.

Since Trump’s election victory Nov. 8, the number of Cubans processed in
Laredo had surged – up 55 percent to 4,602 from November to December.
Alvaro Moreno, one of the Cubans who made it to the U.S. before the
policy’s cancellation, said fear of what Trump might do once he’d been
sworn in had caused him to rush his arrival.

“When Trump won the election, my plans changed,” Moreno said. “The
people I was going to travel with got scared and panicked” and hurried
their travel – fearing that Trump would erect a wall that would keep out
all Latin American immigrants.

Alejandro Ruiz, a Cuban entrepreneur who runs a Laredo safe house known
as Cubanos en Libertad that took in newly arrived Cubans, summed up the
quick reversal in reputations: Cubans stuck on the border now see Obama
as a traitor, he said. Trump is a hero.

“It was a betrayal by Obama,” said Abel Diaz Chavez, 41, from Ciego de
Avila.

“Our last hope is Trump,” said Yamila Gonzalez Cabeza, 44, from Havana.

Fernand Amandi, the principal at Bendixen & Amandi International, who
has studied public opinion on the island, said Obama’s legacy on Cuba
was still being written. If economic improvements take place within
Cuba, people’s views of Obama will rise. Trump, whose policy toward
Obama’s Cuban opening is uncertain, could affect it.

“It’s still a very fluid situation,” he said. “Much of it has to do with
what transpires within Cuba. Particularly, if Trump doesn’t do anything
to upend the policy.”

Feelings were still raw at the end of the 1,050-foot bridge over the
U.S.-Mexico border days after the end of wet-foot, dry-foot. Denial.
Anger. Grief.

On Monday, a group of 60 Cubans who’d arrived too late pulled out
markers to make signs. “Obama, our dead shall fall on your shoulders.
Freedom now!” read one.

Valdez and Matos told a tale of a journey that many had made: a flight
from Cuba to Guyana and on to Venezuela, then a tortuous land journey
through the notoriously dense Darien Gap jungle on the Panamanian
border. They were arrested in Tapachula, Mexico, where they spent days
before being released to continue their journey.

If Matos hadn’t been arrested, she likely wouldn’t be sitting on a
Mexican street corner now. She’d be in the United States. The delay was
enough that she was still being processed when her special privilege was
canceled.

Her husband, who was in an earlier group, had made it through just
minutes before. Matos was turned away, crying about being separated.

“They took my picture,” she said. “They took my fingerprints.”

Ruiz, the entrepreneur, said he was now looking for a shelter in Nuevo
Laredo that could house some 50 to 100 Cuban migrants. He anticipates
that as many as 3,000 Cubans could flock to this border city by the end
of January or early next month, hoping Trump will change policy – though
there’s no hard evidence that he will.

Matos said she could not give up hope.

“I want to be with my husband,” she said. “I am confident that the new
president is going to change the law.”

Email: fordonez@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @francoordonez.

Source: Cuban fears of Donald Trump turn to hope | Miami Herald –
www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article127567974.html

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