For over half a century, Cuba’s dictatorial regime has masterfully spun the U.S. economic embargo on the island as the sole cause for all of Cuba’s woes. While the Castros have kept the sometimes naive, and many times irresponsible, media and international observer’s attention on the mythical embargo, they have stripped the Cuban people of their rights and ransacked the country’s coffers as if it were their own personal trust fund.
A recent New York Times editorial urged the Obama administration to break the cycle of animosity between the two countries and end the embargo — a superficial, supremely jingoistic prescription to the Cuba problem. The notion that the wave of a magic wand by the U.S. president will remedy the ills bestowed on Cuba by the Castro brothers is arrogant and shortsighted.
Historically, U.S. involvement in Cuban affairs has proved less than desirable to the cause of transparent, sustainable Cuban democracy — dating back to the very creation or brokering of the Cuban nation at the end of the Spanish-American War when the United States kept the freedom-fighting Cubans out of the negotiations that would affect the future of the Caribbean nation while at the same time granting the imperialist Spaniards every imaginable right, thus helping them maintain control over the newly “independent” country.
Another irksome component of the “let’s open trade with Cuba” argument is the flawed notion that by doing business with state-sanctioned and controlled entities, there will be a significant enough “trickle down” effect that it will make life easier for the average Cuban. Has the economic opening in China or Vietnam stemmed those government’s repressive tactics and improved human rights conditions? The answer is clearly No. What it has done is fatten the wallets of a select group of American entrepreneurs who have capitalized, if not preyed, upon the advantages afforded by the state-regulated and manipulated markets in those countries.
The flip side of the embargo issue is how many politicians, Cubans and non-Cubans, alike, have strategically used the embargo on Cuba (and the tightening thereof) as the centerpiece of their political discourse. In Miam-Dade County, municipal commission races have shamefully been decided not by how much candidates would raise taxes or on their views of zoning issues, but rather by how tough their stance on Cuba is.
The pain endured by many families, including mine, because of the tragic events surrounding Cuba during the past 50 years are still palpable in this community. I am embarrassed and saddened over how some self-serving politicians have manipulated those feelings and emotionally coerced many voters into voting for a party or candidate that might not stand for their best interest. However, their stance on Cuba sounds satisfyingly fiery.
I was recently brushed by the maelstrom that is Cuban Miami politics. I produced an ad that urged voters not to allow political candidates to politicize contact with their families in Cuba. While I am not a member of the organization that paid for the ad, Cuba Now, nor do I subscribe to all of its tenets regarding U.S.-Cuba policy, I wholeheartedly stand behind the concept of not having an American elected official dictate to a Cuban, or anyone else for that matter, how many times they can or can’t see loved ones on the island.
I believe, and I believe most Cuban Americans do as well, that both sides of the American political spectrum need to politicize the Cuba issue far less. Poll after poll reflects the complexity and sensitivity of this issue among Cuban Americans. The scar tissue left by the decades-long polemic is still quite sensitive.
The more-effective approach seems to be one of understanding, compassion and respect — for and from all sides of the issue.