Cuban-Americans in valley praise new policies

When he talks about the United States, Sergio L. Perez often uses the word “prosperity.”

He should know. The Cuban native has opened two successful restaurants in Las Vegas since moving to town more than a decade ago.

Still, his success isn’t enough. He worries about the financial status of his father and three sisters in Cuba.

Perez’s smile broadened Monday when President Barack Obama tossed aside 50-year-old policies that prohibited Cuban-Americans from traveling to their native country and sending money back home to relatives.

“He made a good decision,” Perez said. “It’s a very good opportunity for Cuba.”

It’s the financial assistance the 41-year-old is most excited about. He has had to rely on acquaintances traveling to Cuba to deliver extra cash he has earned as the owner of Florida Café and Havana Grill. Now he can legally ship the $200 to $300 a month to ensure his family is comfortable.

Perez said his father works but makes only 125 pesos, about $5, a month.

As far as visiting the country he left 16 years ago, Perez will wait because he does not trust the Cuban government to let him return to the United States.

“I want to wait a couple years because in Cuba there is no security. There are no guarantees,” he said. “This is a very beautiful idea for Obama, but the problem is Cuba.”

Don’t expect the news to significantly boost travel between Las Vegas and Cuba, as Cuban-Americans represented less than 1 percent of the Clark County population in the previous census.

Fellow Cuban-Americans share Perez’s sentiment but wish the United States would lift its embargo on Cuba to truly help the impoverished country’s economy.

“I love it, I love it, I love it!” Lilliam Lujan Hickey, a former state Board of Education member, said of Obama’s policy. “I’m excited like a little kid.”

Hickey, 76, said she returned to her country two years ago to visit her ailing brother. She had to get permission from several government entities in Cuba and the United States. She feels free now that she can go whenever she needs to.

“I’m excited not only for me, but for the younger generation,” said Hickey, who has lived in the United States for nearly 50 years.

Waldo De Castroverde no longer has family in Cuba, but he hopes that Cuban-Americans visit the country to show the residents the oppressive actions of their government. He hopes Americans introduce to Cubans CDs and DVDs.

“The relationship between the people there and here is going to hurt the Cuban regime,” the 68-year-old said. “You can express your thoughts here without someone knocking on your door in the middle of the night. That’s a big difference.

“I hope all Americans will soon be able to go.”

Review-Journal writer Benjamin Spillman contributed to this report. Contact writer Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710.

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