For Cuban-American exiles, the political is usually personal


President Obama’s announcement of the policy shift toward Cuba was but a blip on the American national political spectrum. Yet for many Cuban Americans in Miami it was life altering — the paradigm of U.S.-Cuba relations was reset to a place it hadn’t been in most of our lifetimes.

I sat in my neighborhood cigar shop to watch the announcement and felt a flurry of emotions that I hadn’t felt about Cuba and the Cuban polemic for a long time. My sentiments varied from disappointment to excitement from confusion to pain.

Even though there was the release of Alan Gross and the three Cuban spies, I could not have imagined that the president’s 20-minute announcement would turn the existing U.S. policy on Cuba on its head and would thrust me, my fellow smokers huddled around the TV and most of the Cuban community in Miami on a whirlwind, introspective review of history — not just Cuban history, but our personal, family histories, as well.

I called my father and was not surprised to hear a sullen tinge in his voice. He was upset and confused. I understood why. He’s from a generation whose wounds inflicted by the Castros’ revolution never fully healed. His generation believed that their American neighbors wore John Wayne white hats and would never abandon their struggle for freedom. If the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs didn’t destroy that image, the president’s announcement certainly did.

Being reared and educated as an American, I digested the change in policy a little differently, though with much of the same hesitancy as my father.

To me this was nothing more than a dose of realpolitik — a new policy supplanting an antiquated approach. This is not the first U.S. administration to attempt a change. Even Ronald Reagan, who is a messianic figure to many Cuban-American Republicans, attempted to close the gap with Cuba. In 1993, when I interviewed them for my film Adios Patria, former Secretary of State Alexander Haig and special envoy Ambassador Vernon Walters both told me they spoke to the Cubans about a possible détente under Reagan’s directive.

This change in policy underscores the fact that much of our foreign policy is and has been dictated by U.S. economic interests. The United States went from being the imposing policeman of the world to the money-grubbing profiteer that justifies its greed by masking it with political rhetoric. Frankly, I’m not sure which is worse.

I recognize that the nation’s previous stance toward Cuba was an outdated sham that did not benefit Cubans on either side of the Florida Straits, except maybe for those who used it for political advantage.

Yet for those dancing the normalization mambo, there is much to question. If there is nothing more to the deal than what’s been publicized, this is the worst negotiation in American history — except maybe for the Native Americans selling Manhattan to the Dutch for $20.

With this shift in relations, there should also be a repositioning of Cuban-American demands of the White House. Let’s insist that the Castro government be held accountable for human-rights violations like the ones they perpetrated this week, detaining dozens of dissidents who were going to participate in a peaceful demonstration.

Cubans, sadly, know a thing or two about being dealt away and spoken for by superpowers. This is a great opportunity for the Cuban-American community to make sure that the struggle for freedom in Cuba is extricated from U.S. partisan politics. Let’s put to rest the patronizing “Cuba si, Castro no” hollow promises made by stiff, gringo politicians having café at Versailles and begin to actively and constructively engage in the new paradigm so that decisions are no longer made for us.