Local man living in Cuba during Castro’s rise talks about U.S. renewing ties
Raising a U.S flag over the U.S embassy in Cuba is helping reconnect the two countries. John Kerry’s formal re-opening of the embassy Friday is the first U.S. presence in the building since 1961.
Cuban native Jesus Menendez, who lives in Paducah, says it's a step forward and hopes diplomatic ties strengthen.
At 17, he thought Fidel Castro could make Cuba better.
“So I went and fought for him, then I realized that, that was a mistake and my family got me out,” Menendez said.
Jesus Menendez’s sister, an airline stewardess for National, got him out of Cuba in 1958, a year before Fidel Castro seized power in Havana, Cuba.
"She's the one that facilitated everything," Menendez said.
He didn't know English when he arrived in Florida to finish high school, but then someone from Western Kentucky helped him.
“The principal of the high school in Orlando was from Murray and at that time I couldn't speak English so he suggested I come to Murray and I came with my family, my mother, and we liked it,” Menendez said.
Menendez eventually met his wife Shirley-Anne at Murray State and has been in western Kentucky ever since.
He doesn't plan to visit Cuba until the Castro’s are out of power, but says the open dialogue with the U.S. is promising.
“Facilitate the day to day communications and some of the needs, medicine, and food. This will be very good, but not the answer for a long time,” Menendez said.
He says he couldn’t communicate with relatives before and now it’s a lot easier to send money. He hopes cultural barriers will be lifted as well as trade restrictions, which he says are crucial to helping Cuba’s fragile economy.
“All the products that Cuba has can be imported and right now, no. So, therefore we have to find some other country that will access them," Menendez said.
Menendez thinks progress will be slow, but sees U.S tourism as a way to speed up the country's financial growth.
“I think we need to go back to the old times were we visit one another and we had a more direct relationship with individuals and not with the government. Go back to the old way where you guys could come to Cuba, to be free to stay, and participate in the beautiful beaches,” Menendez said.
However, he thinks it'll take a couple years before Cuba’s financial state and everyone's way of life improves.
“If you're not in the inner section, in the inner part of his [Fidel's] government, you're really having a hard time, places to live, and no air condition in some places, the standard of living needs to be raised,” Menendez said.
The U.S. has not yet appointed an ambassador for Cuba.