“I found a Cuba outside Cuba.”
Those were the words Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez expressed shortly after arriving in Miami and visiting the shrine to Our Lady of Charity, “Cachita.” It did not take long for Yoani to realize that Miami’s Cuban-American community is very different from the way the Cuban government have portrayed us.
After traveling to New York City and Washington, it was time to come to Miami. A home that was built by the many sacrifices our parents and grandparents made when they decided to leave Cuba for the fears of what the Castro brothers would do to the nation. “La Habana” could have looked like Miami today. I’m sure this thought crossed Yoani’s mind. The capital of the exile Cuban community opened its arms and warmly welcomed Cuba’s most famous blogger.
Many years ago when the now-deceased Oswaldo Payá came to Miami seeking support for the “Varela Project,” which sought democratic changes in Cuba, he was received with a lukewarm embrace from our community. However, these are very different times.
After so many years of struggling to free Cuba from the shackles of tyranny, many of us have realized that our strategies need some adjustments. At the same time the Cuban-American community has gone from a “politics of passion to a politics of realism.” Part of that realism was demonstrated over how we received Yoani in Miami.
We had read and heard her statements upon her arrival in Brazil favoring lifting the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba and freeing the so-called Cuban Five, who were convicted of spying and some played a direct role in the downing of the Brothers to the Rescue planes by Cuba, killing four Cuban Americans.
Most of us refused to judge Yoani’s statements without giving her the opportunity to explain it herself. Yes, we have become a more tolerant community, politically mature, and respectful of other individuals’ views. While in Miami, I met with Yoani several times and listened to her clear message. She was consistent, very smart, and eloquent as she answered question after question. The more she spoke the more I liked her. Yoani spoke of how difficult it is to live in Cuba each day without freedom of expression and respect for human rights. It’s like a bird living in a cage, she said. We heard from her how little information gets to the hands of the people. We heard from Yoani how she and her parents, like many other Cubans, were part of a promised dream, a revolution, an ideology that eventually failed and has left a country in shambles. The thirst that exists today for liberty and hope for a better future is greater than ever. Yoani Sanchez told us that the Cuban people on the island are not to be completely blamed for the atrocities of the regime. She reaffirmed for us that the fight for a free Cuba is not over and that the Cubans on the island need us as much as we need them to bring about real political change. In the words of Yoani, “We might disagree on some of the ideas, methods and strategies on how change should come. But the most important thing is that we are all Cubans fighting for the same thing.”
Yoani has left a long-lasting positive impression on our community. Remember, she is only one voice among 11 million voices on the island that come out of the “bird cage” and speak against the government every opportunity they get. Yoani is not the only one who opposes the regime each day and pays the consequences for it. The list of opposition leaders and groups is long and getting longer each day. What Yoani Sanchez accomplished in Miami with her visit was to finish building the bridge between Cubans here and on the island. We must extend our hands and help them every way possible. As Yoani, now in Europe, prepares to return to Cuba, let’s not forget the message she left behind. Let’s not forget that there are many like Yoani all over the island. They deserve our help and support. Change has started in Cuba. However, mere provisional economic changes are not enough. All Cubans want and demand real political changes.
Let’s not give up until this goal is accomplished. We owe this to our parents and our grandparents — many no longer alive. We owe it to the many who suffered and continue to suffer in Cuban jails. We owe it to Cuba’s children. The Cuban people want to be free.
Andy Gomez is a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.