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In Miami, Mixed Emotions Over Release Of Cuban Spies

JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: I'm John Burnett in Miami. News of the trade of the three Cuban intelligence agents made a big splash in this city, where the spies were convicted for infiltrating well-known, local anti-Castro groups. Seventy-nine-year-old Rogelio Caballero has parked his truck outside of Sedano's supermarket in the densely Cuban Hialeh suburb. Women push grocery carts full of rice, black beans and plantains for the traditional Christmas Eve meal. Caballero says he was imprisoned in Cuba for five years for anti-government activity. He arrived in Miami in 1993. His truck is covered in hand-lettered screeds against the Castros and now Obama.

ROGELIO CABALLERO: (Through translator) It's incredible. It's incomprehensible. The man they release from Cuba, Alan Gross, he didn't commit any crime. They jailed him so they would have a bargaining chip for the Cuban agents. They exchanged him for murderers. I can't believe Obama gave this prize to the Castros just so they can win another battle against imperialism.

BURNETT: Across town in the trendy Wynwood Arts District, filled with murals and coffeehouses, Rick Herrero works in a startup collective called The Lab Miami. He's the 36-year-old executive director of an anti-embargo advocacy group called Cuba Now, as well as the son of Cuban exiles. Herrero's voice represents the majority Cuban-Americans who - polls say - are ready for a change in relations between Washington and Havana.

RICK HERRERO: I spoke with my mother and while she was very much in favor of all the other measures that were announced, she was deeply troubled by the fact that we released the three. To which my response is, you know, we had to give something to secure the release of other folks. This isn't - these swaps are never pretty. They're never ideal, but it has helped pave the road to a better future between our two countries.

BURNETT: In Miami, they're waiting - some cynically, some anxiously - to see if Raul Castro complies fully with his side of the swap - the release of the 53 political prisoners. John Burnett, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Burnett
As NPR's Southwest correspondent based in Austin, Texas, John Burnett covers immigration, border affairs, Texas news and other national assignments. In 2018, 2019 and again in 2020, he won national Edward R. Murrow Awards from the Radio-Television News Directors Association for continuing coverage of the immigration beat. In 2020, Burnett along with other NPR journalists, were finalists for a duPont-Columbia Award for their coverage of the Trump Administration's Remain in Mexico program. In December 2018, Burnett was invited to participate in a workshop on Refugees, Immigration and Border Security in Western Europe, sponsored by the RIAS Berlin Commission.