“I’m in Cuba! I love Cubans!” Jay-Z wrote during his and Beyoncé’s trip to Havana last year. It got him in trouble with the kind of people who think America could never be too tough with its plantain-eating, cigar-smoking, imperialist-defying neighbor — mostly the aimless liberals, anti-socialist conservatives and wrinkly Cubans with sore knees asking for Fidel Castro’s head.
But if you’re like me, you probably thought to yourself, “Those lucky bastards. Why can’t I stroll along the Malecón like Jigga and Bey?”
Probably every American you can name, no matter how free they think they are, isn’t free go to the island 90 miles off the Floridian shore because of a decision made over 50 years. According to recent reports, the heavy restrictions on American travel to Cuba is even souring an increasing number of Americans who thought they’d never step foot on the island.
To summarize the whole ordeal, America kept a thug in power in Cuba during World War II and the ’50s, until a ragtag group of socialists said to hell with Batista and forced him into exile. Led by Fidel Castro, the revolutionaries soon reestablished the newly-liberated Cuba as a communist state aligned with the Soviet Union, America’s sworn enemy during the Cold War and its ally before that.
Pres. Kennedy tried to invade the island to liberate it from its liberators, but the invasion failed miserably. Not one to back down from bullying, the U.S. government imposed an international ban on all things Cuban (the embargo, known throughout much of Latin America as “el bloqueo”).
The embargo and ill will have persisted ever since.
Last year the U.S. State Department chose to keep Cuba on its list of states sponsoring terrorism, even though Havana is one of the global leaders in counter-terrorism.
Where there’s plenty of “they did this” and “we did that” over the course of the last 50 years, I promised you a summary, so that’s all you’re gonna get at the moment.
All you need to know for now is that the U.S. government doesn’t approve of Cuba’s communist system, nor does it appreciate Cuba’s celebrity as a vocal objector to U.S. foreign policy around the world. And for that, Washington looks to starve Cuba into submission.
But for the last couple of decades, that strategy has begun to backfire as the world increasingly sides with Cuba and calls on the United States to end its embargo and normalize its relationship with its neighbor. When the U.N. voted to condemn the United States for its embargo against Cuba, only Israel stood with the Americans.
Nowadays even people like sugar magnate Alfonso Fanjul, whose family fled Cuba after Castro seized power and helped bankroll the anti-Castro movement in the States, is showing signs of thawing as U.S.-Cuban relations gradually thaw as well.
The Washington Post has an interesting piece showing how Fanjul’s slow turnaround nearly mirrors that of the rest of the American public, including Cuban Americans, the younger subset of which isn’t too keen on carrying the torch of a decades-old beef. “Alfy” — the eldest of four brothers who together own Domino Sugar, among many other enterprises around the world — began to rethink his pro-embargo stance during his trips to his homeland beginning in 2012.
It was during his recent return to Havana as a delegate sent by the Brooking Institution that Fanjul was able to visit his family’s former mansion at the intersection of 17 and E streets, converted by Comandante Fidel into the National Museum of Decorative Arts. He stood there a bit, “tears in his eyes,” remembering a life lived so long ago, hearing the voices of ancestors reverberated off its French neo-classical architecture, imagining a future that could’ve been and might still be.
“[My] family was in Cuba for 150 years, and, yes, at the end of the day, I’d like to see our family back in Cuba, where we started. … But it has to be under the right circumstances,” the 76-year-old sugar tycoon said. “One day we hope that the United States and Cuba would find a way so the whole Cuban community could be able to live and work together.”
What the right circumstances are marks the grey area and, hence, why Cuba and the United States are among the last nations on the planet still fighting the Cold War.
Where both people on the left and on the right agree is that the government set up by the Castro regime is totalitarian, outlawing a free press, allowing only one party (the Communist Party of Cuba) to run in elections, and imprisoning dissidents (or worse).
Where the two sides disagree is on whether Cuba should be singled out for special treatment, considering a number of other countries — including Saudi Arabia, Israel, Russia, China and Honduras — enjoy normalized relations, in some cases even a special relationship, with the United States.
If it’s the undemocratic nature of the Cuban government that the opposition has a problem with, I can think of a few countries in our own neighborhood set up as military-police states where journalists fear for their lives, citizens are stripped of their rights because of their skin color, and the rule of law bends to the will of the elite.
One of those countries is of course Honduras, my maternal homeland. And yet there’s no blockade against the Honduran government. In fact it’s the exact opposite.
So before the bleeding-heart liberals demanding human rights and the freedom-loving conservatives demanding free markets try getting all high and mighty about America’s reasons for the embargo against Cuba, they should remember who America’s friends are.
Everybody needs to be real with themselves and admit that the main reason the United States doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Cuba isn’t because the island has a one-party system that denies freedom of the press and outlaws dissidents (isn’t China one of our biggest economic partners?). It’s because Fidel and his brother Raúl, the current president of Cuba, have dared to defy the United States and its imperialist ways for so long.
That’s why Latin American leaders and the U.N. secretary-general thought to pay Fidel a personal visit at his home during a summit in Havana last month. In the photo taken of his meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, there’s genuine adoration in her eyes as she walks beside him, holding his frail arm tenderly and affectionately.
The average person wouldn’t think she’s the head of state for the seventh largest economy in the world. She looks like a caring daughter or niece.
For my part, I’d love to see Pres. Obama walking with Fidel down some cobblestone street in Old Havana, his hand on the old man’s shoulder, Fidel pointing to buildings and such as he discusses political philosophy, history and current events with his young counterpart.
I think Obama, the community organizer, and the closest we’ve come to having a democratic socialist in the Oval Office, would love that too.
That’s not gonna happen though. You can’t stroll along the Malecón and I can’t sip a cortadito in some Havana café.
Because Fidel and his brother are evil men with an evil government. And the politicians in Washington don’t do business with evil men and their evil governments, nor do they allow American citizens to visit such evil places, except to make war.
Never mind that our leaders in D.C. tell us that we can’t go to Havana because the Cuban government denies its citizens many of the freedoms Americans supposedly hold dear, like the freedom of movement. There’s a contradiction in there somewhere.
But I guess they know what’s best for us.
[Photo: Matias-Garabedian via Flickr]