Cuban–American says Obama’s visit to Cuba ‘invalidates all the
suffering’ she and others have experienced
Posted: Monday, March 28, 2016 9:30 pm
By CATHY DYSON Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star
FREDERICKSBURG — While some cheered President Barack Obama’s recent
visit to Cuba — and what may be a new chapter in relations between the
two countries — a Spotsylvania County woman who lived under the Castro
regime had a markedly different reaction.
“It made me sick,” said Mercedes Precht-Matuschek. “If he was going
there to do good, then maybe I could understand it, but nothing was
accomplished. It was, for us, like a slap in the face.”
She was particularly incensed by images of Obama and Cuban President
Raul Castro sharing “great camaraderie” at a baseball game. The two were
side by side in the stands the same day a terrorist attack in Brussels,
Belgium, killed 35 and wounded at least 300.
“It invalidates all the suffering, all the losses, all the dead that we
still cry for” both in Belgium and in Cuba, she said.
Precht-Matuschek, 66, fled the land of her birth when she was 13 and
hasn’t been allowed back because she’s a political refugee.
She maintains that the Cuban government still subjects its people to the
same torture and death squads as 54 years ago when she was there.
She’s infuriated that an American president would praise such a
communist dictator who continues to take away basic freedoms.
“That’s not going to change because now we’re buddies, we’re friends
with Cuba,” she said.
While analysts agree that human-rights conditions haven’t improved
dramatically in the island nation, many called Obama’s visit unprecedented.
It brought together two heads of state for talks and even a press
conference — something that didn’t seem possible a few years ago.
That’s why Robert Barr, an associate professor of political science and
international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, considers
the visit historic.
He said the United States has tried to effect changes by isolating Cuba
since the 1960s, and the treatment hasn’t worked.
“Engaging the country might have a better chance at fostering positive
changes,” Barr said.
Also, America is turning a page in its Cold War-era policy, Barr said.
Cuba was a threat to the United States when it was aligned with Russia,
but that’s no longer the case. If nothing else, Barr said, Obama’s visit
was “of tremendous symbolic importance.”
That’s a bitter pill to swallow for Precht-Matuschek, who can’t go back
to her homeland to put flowers on her father’s grave.
Precht-Matuschek was among an estimated 14,000 youths sent to America
between 1960 and 1962. Their families feared for their safety after
Fidel Castro, the older brother of Raul, rose to power.
When she was in the fifth grade, she made a speech about loving her
country, family and God. Her strong words came at a time when communist
loyalty was being broadcast on every block.
Her speech caused an uproar among government dignitaries in the audience.
They threatened to throw her father — a wealthy man who owned a factory
— into prison and send such a rebellious student to Russia.
That’s when her father decided to get her out of the country. Others had
been doing the same since Castro took over in 1960.
Precht-Matuschek left in October 1962, less than two weeks before the
Cuban Missile Crisis. The evacuation was dubbed Operation Peter Pan and
was created by the Catholic Welfare Bureau of Miami.
She thought she was going to the United States for a brief — and happy —
Instead, her exile lasted a lifetime and she said she felt like a
prisoner in the land of opportunity.
Some Peter Pan children relocated with families in Florida, but
Precht-Matuschek had no relatives in America.
“The moment I set foot on the airplane, my childhood ended,” she said.
Precht-Matuschek spent three years in a refugee camp, then ended up in a
foster home in Ohio.
Her mother and brother eventually were able to join her, but
Precht-Matuschek never saw her father again.
Her parents divorced before she left Cuba, and he secured permission to
fly to Germany where she was living as an adult.
He died of a heart attack before he made the flight.
But the woman who still calls herself a “Pedro Pan” child has kept up
with events in her homeland. Social media has made it easier, and she’s
watched countless videos of secret police, snatching up citizens or
beating them in the streets for protesting.
No matter what the American or Cuban governments may say about how
conditions have improved, she says most residents live in squalor —
blocks away from swanky attractions for tourists.
American news reports say the economy is stagnant, and families struggle
to keep food on the table when the average salary for workers is $20 a
None of that will get better just because Obama became the first
American president to visit while in office since 1928, Precht-Matuschek
“He’s looking to get his place in the annals of history,” she said.
“Nothing is going to change for Cuba. Nothing is going to change for the
Source: Cuban–American says Obama’s visit to Cuba ‘invalidates all the
suffering’ she and others have experienced – Richmond Times-Dispatch: