When Cubans on the island — including the Cuban government — say, “The whole world is wrong, and we are right,” they say it with a joking irony. In Miami, we Cuban Americans echo the same sentiment and use the same phrase with regard to the Cuban embargo, but, sadly, we mean it.
That senseless mantra, ensconced in U.S. policy toward Cuba, has led the United States to refuse to play ball with Cuba — as we have with China, with Vietnam and with other less than scrupulous regimes — and simply let the ball play us, in the guise of a dissident’s suicide, a violent shoot-down of unarmed aircrafts, a new wave of repression and incarcerations, whenever a bearded Providence throws the ball at us.
We do not seem to understand that it is in the Cuban regime’s interest for us to continue in this reactive mode whenever the ball hits us, which is usually when we least expect it to. It can afford to be ironic about its being right and the whole world wrong. The regime is in control, we are not. We have not accomplished anything in more than 50 years of dismissing what the rest of the world thinks of our policy toward Cuba, and we will not until we see the irony in it and decide to change it.
Either there is no real embargo/blockade, which can have a starving impact on Cuba, or the United States — with the support of a couple of U.N. General Assembly members like Palau, because Israel is not blockading Cuba either, despite its usual “solidarity vote” in the long-running play the annual rite of voting against U.S. sanctions has become — should hold on to it in order to starve them of a cash influx, as some believe. But you cannot have it both ways.
It is senseless for the United States to hold on to the all-but-symbolic embargo, only because some deeply hurt and, unfortunately, bitter, hard-nosed — and well-heeled — players in the Cuban-American exile community cannot live with the idea of either Castro eventually crowing over its demise, and they are willing to put their money where their collective ego is. By so doing, they are holding hostage this and future generations of Cuban youths, people like blogger Yoani Sanchez, who couldn’t care less about bragging rights among the members of their grand-parent’s generation.
Lifting the American embargo would help those within the regime in Havana who want to move in a more liberal direction. Such a change in the atmosphere of what has been, for more than 50 years, an incomprehensibly barren “relationship” for both Cuba and the United States is likely to open minds (maybe even doors) inside Cuba. Something like a photograph of Fidel besides Pope John Paul II years ago (Fidel with Hillary? With Obama?), may undermine those who are prone to choose repression over liberalism. It will also do wonders for the U.S. relationship with the rest of its hemispheric neighbors.
So who benefits from keeping the embargo in place? Petty politicians, who feed from the hands of the pro-embargo camp.
A recent poll — immediately vilified by wonks from the Reagan era and other worn-out right-handed pitchers, lobbyists or experts from the traditional Cuban-exile bullpen, shows that most Americans (even Cuban Americans, and an even larger majority of South Floridians) want the embargo gone.
Clinging to the embargo makes our hailed democracy something ever more difficult to explain, not to mention export.
President Obama should take heart. There are many things he can do to tear it down, even if in stages, especially if he recognizes the embargo for what it is and wrestles it away from those who have, for many years, used it to get elected to local governments and school boards.