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It’s a struggle to keep anti-Castro fires burning for Tampa’s aging Casa Cuba

The organization that boasted 500 members 20 years ago has dwindled to around 100.
When he walked out of a Cuban prison 40 years ago, Roberto Pizano was handed a pink polo shirt with a white-umbrella pattern. An opponent of Cuba’s communist regime, Pizano is a long-time member of the group La Casa de Cuba de Tampa. [CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES  |  Times]
When he walked out of a Cuban prison 40 years ago, Roberto Pizano was handed a pink polo shirt with a white-umbrella pattern. An opponent of Cuba’s communist regime, Pizano is a long-time member of the group La Casa de Cuba de Tampa. [CHRIS URSO | TIMES | Times]
Published Feb. 10
Updated Feb. 10
Related: Click here to read this story in Spanish

TAMPA — Their strident opposition to the communist regime holds sway again in the White House, but it hasn’t brought any bump in membership for La Casa Cuba de Tampa.

In fact, the organization that boasted more than 500 members 20 years ago could muster only six people for one of its signature traditions — placing flowers at the statue of José Martí in Ybor City on Jan. 28 to mark the birthday of the Cuban freedom fighter.

“We’re a small group, but it doesn’t matter,” said Julio Videaud, 85, for nine years a political prisoner in Cuba and president of La Casa Cuba de Tampa since October 2018.

Julio Videaud, 85, president of La Casa de Cuba de Tampa, said he is trying to attract new membership to the group. The numbers have fallen from a peak of around 500 to an estimated 100. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times]

Videaud is pushing to bring in new members. The campaign comes at a time when the Trump administration is working to reverse Obama-era initiatives aimed at normalizing relations with communist Cuba for the first time in more than half a century.

Videaud is disappointed that only 14 new members have signed up. Membership overall is about 100.

“Many are not interested in political issues," Videaud said. "There is tiredness. Now, they are more concerned about work and how much money they can make to support themselves and their families.”

La Casa Cuba de Tampa has been registered since 1993 as a not-for-profit corporation in Florida, promoting democracy and freedom in a Cuba free from communism and dedicated to the original principles of Martí. Regarded by many as the George Washington of Cuba, Martí helped lead the island nation’s war against colonial Spain during the 1890s, in part through his writing and fund-raising during visits to Ybor City.

Videaud was a political prisoner from 1961 to 1970 for his opposition to the communist regime, a political stand that kept him from finishing his studies to be a veterinarian. He came to the United States in 1994 with his mother, wife and daughter.

Through the years, Videaud worked closely with the late Humberto Ferrer and Alfredo Moreno, meeting every Saturday at La Casa Cuba and raising money to help relatives of political prisoners and dissidents in Cuba. With offices at 2506 W Curtis St., the organization charges members a $5-per-month donation to help maintain statues it has installed and to put the publication El Mambí, named for the guerillas who fought with Martí.

President Julio Videaud speaks to a meeting La Casa de Tampa, a group whose membership is declining. From left are Rene Montes de Oca, Leonel Perez, Regino Prado, Astrid Padron, Videaud and Jose Batista Falcon. [JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ | Times]

But there’s more behind the decline in membership than people having busy lives, said Óscar Rodríguez, who has served twice as president of La Casa Cuba.

Fewer and fewer people of Cuban descent in the Tampa area share the fierce opposition to the Castro regime that animated older political exiles, Rodríguez said. Newer immigrants are motivated more by material concerns, he said.

“Everyone who comes to the U.S. for the first time wants a lot of things that they don’t have in Cuba, like a nice car, or a house, or even a gold chain," Rodríguez said. "They don’t join our fight.”

A 2018 Florida International University poll bears him out, finding that a majority of Cuban Americans today are inclined to support policies of engagement with Cuba. This is especially true for the grandchildren of those who fled Cuba after the Castro regime came to power in 1959.

The poll also shows that these “conciliatory voices” are growing as outspoken in their demands for change as the hard-liners who have long advocated for isolating the island nation as a way to bring about regime change.

Still, La Casa Cuba de Tampa hopes to win over more younger people to its cause. It needs them, in part, because it is losing so many of its aging leaders.

Lydia P. González, who died last year at 87, is the latest. González was a teacher in Cuba and one of the few women who worked to support the Cuban exile community in Florida, serving as an officer during her 25 years with La Casa Cuba.

“It is the duty of each Cuban,” said Roberto Pizano, 82, another member of the organization and a political prisoner in Cuba for 18 years.

“We need fresh voices but the problem is that more than one young Cuban prefers to do other things. Cubans should join Casa Cuba to know what happened in their country."

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