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Some Cuban-Americans Angry With Release Of Spies

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're going to go to Miami now where the deal with Cuba drew an immediate negative reaction from some Cuban-American leaders. They all praised the release of Alan Gross who they say shouldn't have been imprisoned in the first place. But some Cuban-Americans are most upset at President Obama's decision to release Cuban spies, including one who was linked to the shoot-down of planes that claimed American lives.

NPR's Greg Allen has been gathering reaction all day.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In Miami whenever there's an announcement regarding Cuba, members of the small but outspoken hard-line group Vigilia Mambisa gather.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Yelling) Obama coward.

ALLEN: Miguel Saavedra is with Vigilia Mambisa and he says he's angry about Obama's efforts to resume diplomatic relations and establish closer financial and trade ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

MIGUEL SAAVEDRA: Obama is a traitor to the people of the United States because he's giving all the business to Cuba. Cuba is terrorista.

ALLEN: In Miami today the response from other Cuban-American leaders was less inflammatory but just as angry. At a news conference in Coral Gables, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen appeared with the families of four men who died in 1996 after their planes were shot down by the Cuban Air Force.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS CONFERENCE)

CONGRESSMAN ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN: These attempts to normalize relations with Cuba, while the folks responsible for the killing of these American citizens have now been absolved of any responsibility.

ALLEN: Of particular concern is one of the Cuban spies released today, Gerardo Hernandez. He was the leader of a group of five men sent by Cuba to Florida to infiltrate Cuban-American groups and U.S. military installations. A federal judge convicted him of supplying information that led to the shoot-down of two planes operated by a Cuban-American activist group, Brothers to the Rescue, killing four. Maggie Khuly, the sister of Armando Alejandre, one of the men who died, says she and the other survivors heard about the release of the Cuban spies not from the Obama administration, but from the news media.

MAGGIE KHULY: This was the only modicum of justice that we had - criminal justice in our case - and we simply have been ignored.

ALLEN: Across Miami there was a similar reaction from elected Cuban-American leaders and others who've supported the 50-year-old U.S.-Cuba embargo. But Guillermo Grenier says those opinions don't truly represent a diverse community. Grenier, with Florida International University, directs an annual poll of Cuban-Americans. He says nearly 60 percent of the community now supports lifting the embargo and support is strongest among those who've arrived in the U.S. in the last two decades.

GUILLERMO GRENIER: The folks who were coming since 1995 are more likely to want diplomatic relations. They're more likely to want all kinds of normal relations with the island.

ALLEN: It's group that also includes members of a younger Cuban-American generation. People like 35-year-old George Davila. Citing China as an example, he says the U.S. doesn't have to agree with the nation to open an embassy there.

GEORGE DAVILA: But that does not mean that we do not have ambassadors to those nations, that we do not have political dialogue with those nations and that it's not in the interest of our people and the Cuban people to begin a new chapter in this relationship.

ALLEN: Another group cheered by today's developments, Cuban-American businessmen, many of whom have been encouraging Washington to begin engaging economically and financially with Cuba.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.