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Cuban-Americans want freedom for their families in Cuba

Like many Cubans who fled the country in the 1960s under the tyranny of communism, Antonia Albisu was among the thousands that chose freedom over family as she entered the United States with her three children leaving behind her husband.

She vowed never to return until the Castro regime was out of power.

Originally born in Havana, her daughter Maria Antonia lived in a neighborhood with her mother and siblings that was near a Plaza she would visit to hear Fidel Castro’s speak.

Her mother was motivated to leave Cuba so that her children could have the ability to make their own choices and live their lives without fear of a communist government.

Antonia recalled, “My father hadn’t left the house we had in Havana when the [Castro] government had somebody else moving in. The government takes everything you own. It was no longer yours, it was the government’s and they did with it as they saw fit.”

After fleeing to Miami with her mother and two siblings, Antonia’s father, Lazaro Albisu, joined them a year later.

“This is a situation, when you think about it, that split a lot of families up. We had to leave the rest of our relatives in this choice between family or freedom. Obviously freedom was the choice that my parents made. But that was not an easy choice. You still had to leave a lot of loved ones behind you,” explained Antonia.

Maria Antonia broke her mother’s rule and visited Cuba years later.

Antonia added, “I felt bad that I did that, but I’m glad I went back to see what was going on.”

In the mid-90s Antonia traveled to Cuba to cover Pope John Paul II’s visit as a reporter for KMBC-TV with her husband, photojournalist Tim Twyman. Apart from working, she also took the time to visit with friends and family whom she had not seen in years.

She took the opportunity to interview her family on videotape, so that Antonia could return and give her report to KMBC-TV’s audience. Antonia remembers how they would whisper their answers when she asked them questions.

“I realized that they were basically afraid of speaking in their own homes, speaking their minds, because they were afraid somebody was going to hear them if they were not in favor of the communist policies and afraid that they would end up in trouble as well. And my thought is, ‘how is this going to change that? How is this going to make those kind of situations better for the people?’” she explained.

In December 2014, President Obama announced that he was working towards establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, something unheard of for 54 years, since the United States broke ties with the Cuban government after Fidel Castro declared a Communist Cuban Revolution.

Creating a communist country, Castro raised taxes on American imports and started to make trade deals with the Soviet Union.

Now under the command of Castro’s brother, Raul, Cuba continues to live in isolation from countries in the Western hemisphere. Cuban citizens are still forced to believe the ideologies of Fidel Castro.

According to the Human Rights Watch World Report 2014: “The Cuban government officials employ a range of tactics to punish dissent and instill fear in the public, including beatings, public acts of shaming, termination of employments, and threats of long-term imprisonment.”

The Cuban government controls all media outlets deciding what viewers hear or see. The regime has been accused of overcrowded prisons and work camps full of political dissidents.

When asked by Hispanic News if she looked at the situation differently than most Americans, Antonia stated, “I do know that I look at it differently. Having been there and seen what my own loved ones are going through, I’m concerned about what it means to them. I want life to be better for them. I want the things that I can enjoy here to be things they can enjoy there. I want them to have the same things I do. I want them to be treated better. I not only want them, for my loved ones, but for the people in that country, for all Cubans.”

Antonia noted that there are some Cuban-Americans that will never approve of any relationship with a communist country because many of them suffered and were forced to make the same decision as her mother to leave their families behind in pursuit of freedom.

As the United States continues its progress to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, Antonia worries for citizens living in Cuba. However, if given the opportunity to visit, Antonia would go in a heartbeat.

“As soon as there’s a change in government, I’ll be glad to take them [husband and son] over there and say, ‘Son, this is where your mom came from, let’s go take a look,’” said Antonia.