Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Opening the Door

The response here in Miami to the lifting of travel and money restrictions for Cuban-Americans has been interesting: some of the people you’d think would be in favor of the action are opposed to them — liberal Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek, for example — and those you’d think would be against them are in favor of them — Cuban-born and Operation Pedro Pan passenger Republican Sen. Mel Martinez offers “nuanced” support for the move. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about dealing with Cuba and the people who are connected with that enigmatic island, nothing can be taken for granted.

I have no dog in the fight; I don’t have family there, I’ve never been there, and all I’ve ever seen of it is what you could see from 35,000 feet on a Pan Am flight from Miami to Montego Bay in 1967. But you cannot live in South Florida without getting a sense of what Cuba means to a lot of people here, even those like me who only know it from the stories you hear from friends and co-workers who came from there and who still have family there. It goes far beyond the politics; had it not, we would have re-established relations with the regime the same way we did with Vietnam, a nation that is still a dictatorship, holds political prisoners, and denies the basic human rights as efficiently and as brutally as the Castro brothers do, not to mention the thousands of lives lost and scarred by the war we fought and lost there.

The long and sometimes contentious history between Cuba and the United States, dotted with colonialism, imperialism, Mafioso capitalism, and exploitation, pre-dates Fidel and Raul. In some ways I suspect there’s a subliminal feeling among Americans, both within and without the Cuban community, that we were in part responsible for what happened there in 1958 and we owe it to them and ourselves to be accountable for the past and help shape its future, even if it’s by finally letting go of the hold we’ve had on it. Opening the door — even if it’s just a crack — to let people here go back and forth may provide us the opportunity to get some fresh air into Cuba, and give us the room to get out of the way of those who can really change the country: the Cuban people themselves.

As I’ve noted many times before, the embargo against Cuba has been a complete failure except in one area: it has given the Castro regime and its khaki thugs the excuse to continue their brutality for fifty years, and since the day it was imposed it has worked for them beyond their wildest dreams. As long as they can play the victim — and are enabled by the experts of victimology in the Republican party who know all too well how to manipulate los historicos (see the Diaz-Balart brothers) — they have been able to keep their heel on the necks of the Cuban people by demonizing los yanquis and conveniently ignoring the millions of Canadian dollars, euros, pounds, yen, and every other currency that flows in from every other country in the world that trades with them. As long as we don’t, they will blame us and get away with it.