The sound of dominoes slapping the tables at Maximo Gomez Park in Miami's Little Havana is usually accompanied with lively chatter about Cuban-American politics — all the whos, whens and what-ifs of exile gossip.
Today, however, Cuban domino players remained tight-lipped about the biggest news in nearly 50 years as President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro made their historic announcements to normalize diplomatic relations. The two countries also secured a prisoner swap deal that included the release on humanitarian grounds of USAID contractor Alan Gross, who Cuba had imprisoned for five years on charges of illegally providing Internet gear to Cuba's Jewish community.
Many Cuban exiles outright refused to speak about the development — even when pressed on the issue. Some looked defeated. Others whispered or grumbled about conspiracy theories.
"People here [at Domino Park] don't want to say too much out loud about what just happened, because if you say exactly how you feel things could turn violent," said Pablo Cardoso, who left Cuba during the Mariel boatlift in 1980. "Everyone has their opinions on it; I have my own. Personally, I think this was needed. What, were we supposed to let [Gross] die there?"
"The more business we do with Cuba, the better it is for the people there, and the worst for the government," Cardoso added. "This will run Communism into the ground."
Others were less understanding.
"Politics is the dirtiest thing there is," says Cesar Barcas, who left Cuba in 2006. "Raul Castro is probably the worst person in the whole world, and I don't know why anyone would speak to him, much less make some kind of deal with him."
Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana has long been considered the epicenter of Cuban exile politics. A small group of demonstrators gathered in front of the coffee window this morning to protest President Obama's decision. "President Obama is a traitor and a coward!" they yelled.
"I think [today's announcement] is great. I've long advocated that our stance on Cuba has been stuck in the Cold War," said George Davila, who was born in Miami to two Cuban parents. "The Cuban government has learned that they can lean on the embargo to shift the blame to the U.S. for things that are their own fault."
He said the older generation's grudge against the Castros is so strong that they're stuck on the past and not thinking about what's best for the country's future.
Olegario Gonzalez, who left his native island in 1963, says he fought in the Cuban Revolution with Fidel and Raul Castro, but changed sides once the new government's communist intentions became clear.
"If we want them to change, we shouldn't be the ones making concessions," Gonzalez said. "This is a disaster… I don't see how it will help the Cuban people at all. It's probably going to help the government get more money with which to oppress people."
"I was a lover of Castro until I realized that he will imprison or kill you if you do something to threaten his power," said Isaac Ramó, who came to the U.S. only eight months ago. "I approve of the Gross deal, but not the rest of it."
"How can Obama extend his hand to a murderer?" he demanded.
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.