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Mixed reaction from locals to Obama's visit to Cuba

Local Cuban-American Jose' Nieto talks about Pres. Obama's Cuba visit.    (Sabrina Wilson/FOX 8 News) Local Cuban-American Jose' Nieto talks about Pres. Obama's Cuba visit. (Sabrina Wilson/FOX 8 News)

President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba draws criticism from some local Cuban-Americans, while the head of the port sees it as a step in the right direction.

In Metairie, Jose’ Nieto focused on making a popular Latin dessert, churros inside his restaurant bearing the same name.

"I was 22 years old and not going to be able to get out of Cuba legally, so I came illegally swimming to Guantanamo Bay. I swam 5 miles and get into the U.S. base in Cuba,” said Nieto.

He has lived in America ever since he arrived and requested political asylum.

"The only reason I left my country because I wanted to be free,” he said.

Nieto took a break during the busy lunch hour to discuss why he is not applauding President Obama’s visit to Cuba. The last sitting U.S. president to visit the island nation was Calvin Coolidge in January 1928.

"I don't understand why he goes to Cuba and has a relationship with a dictator of that type,” Nieto said.

Local Cuban American and veteran attorney George Fowler did an interview from the New Orleans airport where he was about to board a flight to Miami to discuss the president’s visit with other prominent Cuban-Americans. Fowler is Vice Chairman and General Counsel of the Cuban American National Foundation, and said Fidel Castro continues to call the shots.

"President Obama unfortunately didn't negotiate himself a good deal. You can never negotiate a good deal with Fidel Castro,” said Fowler.

Obama met with current Cuban President Raul Castro, Fidel’s brother. Both took part in a press conference following their meeting. Obama pushed for improved human rights and democracy for the Cuban people. Castro wants the U.S. trade embargo lifted entirely.

Fowler said abuses continue.

"We did talk to President Obama about meeting with the dissidents and he agreed to do it,” said Fowler.

Fowler hopes that meeting will take place Tuesday.

"They're arrested, they're beat up,” Nieto said of dissidents on the island.

At the Port of New Orleans, there is a different view of Obama’s visit.

"It's a great step in the right direction, and if nothing else, we keep taking those steps in the right direction and letting them know we're here. In the case of the Port of New Orleans, we're the largest exporter of poultry in the United States, so we send down 25,000, roughly 25,000 tons of poultry in a given year,” said Port of New Orleans CEO Gary LaGrange.

However, he noted that a major impact from lifting the embargo would not be felt right away, and that would not be as effective without the development of a middle class on the island.

"You're not going to see anything happen overnight like the turning of a light switch,” said LaGrange.

Nieto still has close family members living on the island of Cuba, and from their vantage point oppression continues to reign.

"And they already say, 'why the President of the United States? Why he coming to Cuba? He's not going to do anything,'” Nieto said.

He said many other countries have no trade barriers with Cuba, and the oppression continues.

"Do you think the American people have the magic touch to help the Cubans better? Not really,” said Nieto.

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