U.S.-Cuba policy must now move forward, not back

A Cuban woman waves at the Adonia as it leaves PortMiami in 2016, en route to Cuba.
A Cuban woman waves at the Adonia as it leaves PortMiami in 2016, en route to Cuba. Miami Herald

In the most serious political fight possible — the presidential one — Sen. Marco Rubio referred to then candidate Donald Trump as “a con man.” Nothing more true has ever come from the senator’s lips.

In just a few days, Trump, one of the least trusted men in America, will come to Miami claiming he is doing something for Cuban Americans here and Cubans on the island. We will be lied to, and some in Miami will cheer. He and others will make promises to those who believe that reverting to a harsher policy toward Cuba is the way to counter attack the island’s brutal regime.

For decades, the U.S. policy approach to strangle the Revolution has failed in every way. It failed to deliver a democratic system of government. It failed to remove the Communist/Fidelista regime from power. It failed to foster an open economy. Most important, it failed at its original reason for its existence — to have U.S. companies and individuals compensated for their properties stolen by the Cuban government.

To the brave men who were willing to shed their blood in the past, don’t let key politicians divide us. We are not your enemies, and we admire your courage. As we move forward in completing the unfinished task of ushering in an era for a democratic Cuba, it is important to recognize that we need a strategy designed for the present day and all the tomorrows to come. For this, we need your understanding and support. Perhaps the strategy you embraced was the right one in the past, but it does not serve us today.

Over the decades, we have forgotten the 11 million victims living in Cuba. We allowed the government to turn us into the villains. We gave the dictatorship an excuse to carry out its abuse because otherwise, “the Yankees will invade.” In doing so, the true embargo was placed on the people.

It has taken almost 60 years to get cruise lines full of travelers to visit Cuba and share stories of American freedom and friendship. It is painful to know that the Cuban government has benefited, but it is just as clear that the people have benefited as well.

Just a few years ago, there were at least 4,000 businesses, most only there for Cuba’s elite. Today, there are more than 535,000 small-business licenses, many supported by training programs sponsored by the Catholic Church.

There are properties being bought and sold. There is Internet access in major cities. There is information about critical issues of mutual interest being exchanged, including environmental protection, fisheries, hurricane preparedness, clinical research — all which will go away if we turn back the clock.

This new breed no longer depends on the government for meager wages and independence empowers. I have heard them say, “No! I won’t go to a rally!” “No! You can’t threaten me!” “No! I have rights!” Because of our willingness to allow an exchange, a quiet revolution has been happening inside Cuba without a shot being fired.

What is clear is that progress has been made these past two years; progress that we have not seen in the previous 58. Why would we want to change an American cruise line for a Russian or Chinese warship in Havana’s harbor?

Cuban Americans send more than $3 billion to their families each year. We surely know that when it comes to taking care of the abuelos and families, we will get it done. Do we want to go back and start sending again via Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or Canada?

Cuban Americans remember when they were promised U.S. warplanes over the Bay of Pigs, but it was a lie. They remember when politicians, most of them respectable men, came from Washington and took a microphone to say, “Next year in Havana!”

Now remember the words of one of your favorite sons, Rubio, when he called Trump “a con man”. If you believe anything Rubio says, believe that.

Michael “Mike” B. Fernandez is chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, based in Coral Gables.