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Cuban Americans react to policy changes

Posted at 8:02 PM, Jun 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-16 23:06:24-04

Cuban Americans across South Florida were glued to televisions President Donald Trump made his announcement on Friday.

Click here to read the full story on Trump's policy changes.

Reactions in Palm Beach County are mixed, as is the emotion among many in the community across the area.

Some we spoke to say the decision to roll back President Obama's policy is a step in the right direction but it might not be enough to stop the problems caused by the communist government.

Alejandrin Del Valle has a painful history with his home country.

"I lost my father there but couldn't go to the funeral," he said. "If I go there, they'll put me in jail."

Del Valle said he wanted to study engineering at a university but it was difficult to make a life in Cuba. He decided he wanted to escape the regime and with several others, tried to steal a boat to get a away. They were caught and he feared imprisonment and death.

He was part of the infamous 1980 Peruvian embassy incident, one of 10,000 Cubans granted diplomatic protection by the government of Peru.

"I stayed at the embassy for three weeks and didn't eat. I had to eat the leaves from the trees," he said. "When I came to America, I was so skinny. I lost 75 pounds."

Now 68-years-old and living a quiet life in West Palm Beach with his wife, he's come a long way. He's even written and published a book about his experiences called Day of the Embassy.

He watched in his kitchen on Friday as President Trump announced he's clamping down on travel and commercial ties with Cuba.

Del Valle says former President Obama's policies didn't benefit the Cuban people -- even tourism dollars go back to the government.

"He doesn't know the reality of Cuba," he said. "Whatever you do with them is money for the government, not for the people. They have absolute control of everything -- business, the people's lives."

But he says the Presidents' new move is just the start. Change needs to come from within.

"I don't see anybody saying he's going to push them to make free elections or freedom for the people," said Del Valle.

Immigration attorney and half-Cuban Gina Fraga  says the ever changing atmosphere makes her job harder.

"As an attorney you have to keep up with the law but if the law and rules keep changing constantly -- which it does every week it seems -- it's very difficult," she said.

Fraga said there's mixed emotions between younger and older generations.

"Right now, the younger generation is worried because they liked the Obama regulations," she said.

Also, because of the ending of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy under the Obama Administration, more Cubans were getting deported.

"The Cuban government may resist the pushback because they've never liked to be pushed," said Fraga.  "What if they also reject Cuban deportees? So that could be something that could happen."

For now, Del Valle said he's skeptical about the future of Cuba-U.S. relations, but is hopeful.

"Any president that comes through the White House said they are going to get Cuba free. I don't see it yet," he said. "He has to push to help the residents that's the only way to push the government."

Diplomatic relations between the U.S and Cuba will remain open.