"I came here. My mother said we have no money at all. I was 9-years-old. She said, 'Get a job.' I said, 'What is that?' But I got a job. I got 36 jobs before I became a lawyer here in New Orleans," says Cuban-American attorney George Fowler.
George Fowler's story is like so many others echoed across the country. Immigrants who left Cuba for political reasons after the rise of communism left their families with nothing. George Fowler left in 1960. He was nine years old.
“I didn't speak any English, but in two months I learned English because as a little kid it was easier,” remembers Fowler.
Fowler has never returned to the island, but he hasn't severed his roots. As the founding partner of an international law firm, he prides himself on being Vice President and General Counsel of the Cuban-American National Foundation.
Wednesday morning he was listening as President Obama announced the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba by opening an embassy in Havana, facilitating travel to the island, and easing some economic sanctions including the long-standing ban on importing Cuban cigars.
“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It's time for a new approach,” said President Obama in a speech addressing the nation Wednesday morning.
The move follows more than a year of secret talks between the U.S. and Cuba capped by a prisoner swap that freed American Alan Gross.
“I'm very happy for Mr. Gross and his family, but we paid a big price. Now every American out there is in danger because of this deal,” says Fowler.
President Obama cannot end the longstanding economic embargo with Cuba, that requires congressional approval yet Fowler believes it isn't our embargo that's destroyed the island.
“Everybody is poor in Cuba. There's no food in Cuba, and they want to blame the Americans for it, and the American embargo, that's nonsense. There are 190 countries in the world. They can trade with 189 countries,” says Fowler.
Under the changes announced this morning licensed American travelers to Cuba can return to the U.S. with $400 in Cuban goods, including tobacco and alcohol products worth less than $100 combined. As far as easing travel restrictions the move makes it easier for certain Americans to travel to Cuba, but tourist travel remains banned.