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Spanish radio general manager reflects on her passage to the U.S. during the Cuban Mariel Boatlift

Posted at 5:35 PM, Apr 19, 2018

Cuba has a new president who is not a Castro. That has not happened in 59 years. Cuban-Americans remain skeptical about what the new leadership means for the island but agree it marks the end of an era - the Castro era. 

RELATED: More Cuba coverage

Over the airwaves, Lissette Diaz at 1190 AM Spanish radio gives Latino listeners a chance to exercise a freedom she never had in Cuba. 

"I remember in school how they used to train us to be loyal to the government," said Diaz, who is the general manager of WPSP radio in West Palm Beach.

Diaz left the country when she was 8-years-old and even after her recent visit, she says her view of the island is frozen in time. 

"It's like you see black and white in Cuba still, it's weird when you get to this country you look around and you see everything in color," said Diaz. 

Cuba is a beautiful island with classic cars that inside are falling apart, buildings that have not been maintained since the 50s. When Fidel Castro took power in 1959, Diaz's grandparents quickly learned their lives would change. 

"They owned farms in Cuba and when Castro took over they went to my grandfather and they told him: 'Look, you've got to leave. This belongs to us now,' " said Diaz. "Imagine how you would feel if they would do that to you." 

Forced to leave everything behind, Diaz's grandparents continued sugarcane farming west of Palm Beach County. 

"We wanted to reunited with our family," said Diaz. 

In 1980 she and her family heard of the Mariel Boatlift. Fidel Castro allowed a mass migration of Cubans to the U.S. Among the tens of thousands of Cubans who left Mariel, Cuba in boats chartered by families in the U.S., were criminals also sent over by Castro. 

"They emptied their jails and they put people in that boat, it was crazy," Diaz said as she remembers the boat she boarded with her parents. 

Today she is the General Manager of the first Spanish station to operate in Palm Beach County in 1991. 

Cuba's new president has been the topic over the air, and Cubans here get to talk about it. 

"I think it is a new era for Cuba, it has to be," Diaz added. 

President Miguel Diaz-Canel was the sole candidate elected by the island's National Assembly to run for the presidency.