Tampa Cubans react to president's visit with mixed emotion

- The president's trip to Cuba is bringing mixed reactions from Cuban-Americans in Tampa. 

"I think him going to Cuba gives us a little bit of hope," said Yanko Maceda, who owns Tabanero Cigars in Ybor City.

In the mid-90s, Maceda was a Cuban teenager, who, along with his family, sought refuge in the United States.

"They were not OK with the communist system," he said.

He sees the president's visit as an attempt to chip away at a system that has not been heavily influenced by decades of American embargoes.

"It hasn't worked," he said of American policy towards Cuba. "The only people who have really suffered in Cuba is my people, my family."

On paper, the similarities between Maceda and Marcelo Suarez, also of Tampa, are striking.

"We came here when I was 15 years old," he said. "I had nothing (but the) clothes on my back; me, my dad, and two sisters."

He was about the same age as Maceda when his own family fled Cuban communism.  Now Suarez owns a jewelry store in west Tampa, but he takes a harder line than Maceda.

He still sees Cuban police arresting dissenters and leaving peasants in the dust while government honchos live relatively large.

To him, the president's visit is a tacit, if muted, endorsement.

"It basically legitimizes the system," he offered.

Yet both men acknowledge Cuban change will be gradual, and have hope that the president's visit signals a new day, more than anything else.

"We always hope for the best," said Suarez.

"You always feel that you are going to die and you are not going to see any changes," added Maceda.

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