Families torn by travel ban to Cuba come out in protest

June 18, 2006

Miami Herald- Laura Morales

Cuban-born Maria de la Torre, 73, has a big family on the island -- several orphans she raised and their children. She hasn't been able to see them in many years.

``These are like my own children and grandchildren. I love and miss them.

'But I can't go visit them,' said de la Torre, a member of the Association of Christian Women in Defense of the Cuban Family.

She and other members of her group joined activists from Democracy for America Miami-Dade in a demonstration Saturday outside the office of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who supported restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba that were enacted in 2004.

Nearly 100 sun-crisped protesters crowded at the intersection of Sunset Drive and Southwest 92nd Avenue, flashing signs with slogans like 'Breaking Up the Family is Compassionate Conservatism?' and ``Travel Restrictions Do Not Equal Freedom.'

Passing gawkers in cars provided a running chorus of cheers, jeers, tooting horns and wolf whistles, while three women demonstrators yelled in Spanish into megaphones: ``Ileana! Ileana! We're going to Havana!'

Simon Rose, press secretary for Democracy for America Miami-Dade, said his friend Lourdes Arteaga, who lives in Louisville, Ky., could not visit Cuba to see her dying father or attend his funeral.

'My wife, Niuba, who is Cuban American, used to visit her mother twice a year,' Rose said. ``My mother-in-law isn't well, she had a nervous breakdown. But now her only daughter has to wait years to see her.'

Under current restrictions, those with immediate family on the island may visit only once, for a maximum of two weeks, every three years.

'They have reclassified the family,' Rose said. ``Aunts, uncles and cousins are no longer family if they live in Cuba and you live here. This from a so-called family-values Republican Party.'

Ros-Lehtinen's press secretary, Alex Cruz, relayed a statement from her.

'It is great to live in the U.S. where we have the right to freely demonstrate, protest and voice our opinions,' the congresswoman said. ``I only wish the protesters would highlight that these are rights that Castro denies to the Cuban people.

``I hope that they would denounce this fundamental violation of human rights.'

Rose said he wants to make it clear that Democracy for America Miami-Dade does not support the Castro regime.

'Chinese and Vietnamese people can visit their families in their Communist countries,' he said. ``Why can't Cubans? They're hurting families to gain political points and votes.'

Demonstrators passed out leaflets for a similar protest scheduled for 10:30 a.m. July 8 in front of Hialeah City Hall, 501 Palm Ave.

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