Op-Ed

Cuba’s dark past should not block its brighter future

President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro during one of their first meetings last year.
President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro during one of their first meetings last year. AP

Cuba has changed more in the last 15 months than in the previous 60 years, and that change toward a better future should continue. But let us not set ourselves up to be disappointed. The change will be slow, but not as slow as what has occurred in the last six decades.

Leadership just about anywhere is not monolithic, and there are those who want to hold on to power and avoid change. Then there are those whose ideologies are different, as they have lived unaware that a better way was available to them. How could this be? For one, lack of information. The difference between having the Internet and not having it is the difference between living in the 1800s and the 21st century. Countries like Cuba can enjoy progress without giving up their sovereign rights.

This last sentence sounds naive, but it is true at some of the highest positions in government. Strategies that we execute in everyday life are foreign to them. This does not mean that those in Cuba are not smart, but it does mean that they have been the victims of a failing system that we have indirectly supported through sanctions imposed.

We, too, added to their darkness. These were strategies of the Cold War, and of states of siege found in the Middle Ages, not today.

To combat this situation we need to recognize that there are fortresses and there are gates. Today we are at a moment in the history of Cuba when windows have been opened, but we need to chip away around the edges of each window and turn them into gates. Light must flow in and never allow darkness to return.

I ask President Obama to keep chipping away. Together, let’s let the light in.

Still, it is a dangerous time because of timing and circumstances. The windows that have been open are the result of the leadership in my place of birth being at a historical crossroads, as a multi-generational shift is within sight. This makes this situation even more aggravated by our U.S. administration, which means well, and is also trying to define its legacy.

Cuba as a nation is small. Miami-Dade County’s GDP is larger than the whole of Cuba. But an economically small island geographically close to markets such as Canada, Mexico, the United States and Latin America will not stay small. A new powerful Cuba may be in the making, and we can help as it changes. As its economy has changed, so have the rights of its citizens.

Then there is the trust issue. We must begin to trust each other.

“Luck comes to visit but it does not come to stay”, as the saying goes. As a community we are no different from those on the island. We are not superior as a very few may say; we were lucky to have landed on the shores of a country which allowed us to rise. We responded to incentives in our new homeland. These added perks taught us to act in a way where self sacrifice, commitment and opportunity rewarded us.

Today, those living in everyday Cuba, may not dress as nicely, nor enjoy the materialistic benefits we do. They certainly do not enjoy the freedoms we do, but they are as smart and as entrepreneurial as we are. We are not superior to them ... WE ARE THEM and we have an obligation to each child, mother, father and citizen of Cuba to share with them what we have learned as to how to attain a superior quality of life that it’s just beyond a “gate”.

Those living on what Columbus called “the most beautiful land that human eyes have ever seen” are within reach of entering a new era. Today, there are almost 500,000 citizens who are operating small businesses.

These small non-state-owned operators employ more than 40 percent of the workforce in Cuba. In the last five, short years, Cuba has experienced an economic semi-revolution without firing a single rifle.

Yet the future of a potentially prosperous land only 90 miles south puts us in a precarious position. Like any other bureaucracy, the system wants to protect itself from change. Many regulators see as threatening to their immobility/inefficiency.

A new level of efficiency is needed and must be allowed to be adopted. The longer the Cuban regime holds off real change, the harder it will become to change and enter a better day.

During a recent visit to Washington and Capitol Hill, that place where few admit doing wrong, I walked into the beautifully appointed office of a senior elected member of government. We have known each other for years, and the conversation had a casual tone, that is until we began to speak about the U.S. embargo on Cuba. I spoke and shared my view as to why it should be removed. Then he spoke as to the historical evil events perpetrated by the Cuban government.

I agreed that events like those sadly happened, and pain and death were inflicted. But I asked him: “As an elected leader, why not focus on the future while not ignoring the past? A leader offers hope and a better vision for the future and there needs to be more than remind his or her supporters of the most painful days of their lives.

If this is the way some elected, then they are trading on pain, not on hope.” Any mantra to focus on a limited and aging group has its days numbered.

He finally said, “All right, I am a logical person, and I only respond to data and facts. So give me the data and the facts that have led you to believe that removing the embargo will be effective.”

I responded, “Since you have all the data and facts on an embargo that has been in existence for almost 60 years, why don’t you show me what it has accomplished?”

He just stared at me.

Mike Fernandez is chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, L.P., in Coral Gables.

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