Normalizing Relations With Cuba Is the Right Thing to Do
There is something of a boat in every exile’s house.
- Jose Marti
I have a somewhat different view of the recent thawing of relations between the US and Cuba. I’m half Cuban. My mom’s side of the family came to the US after Castro’s regime. My grandfather owned a restaurant in Havana’s train station until it was seized by the government. My uncle was sent to the US ahead of the rest of the family (not knowing if they’d see each other again) because he was 12 and they were afraid he’d be drafted into the new army. My mom, aunt, and grandparents came about a year later with one suitcase for four people (among the confiscated items was my grandmother’s wedding ring), they stayed at a refugee camp at the old Orange Bowl. I have cousins that were part of the Mariel boat lift. My grandparents went from being fairly affluent people in Cuba to washing dishes and working in bakeries or factories (my grandmother worked at a company that made transistor boards for computers).
Growing up, Cuba was as much an idea as it was a place. And part of that idea was that it was something stolen. So we supported the embargo because we believed that it would mean the end of the Castro regime and what was stolen would be returned. I’m now in my late 30s, my grandparents have passed away (my grandmother died almost 20 years ago, my grandfather joined her last year), and still the Castro regime persists, despite the embargo.
I truly understand the pain and anger that so many Cuban-Americans feel about this. We have no real family heirlooms because they were all taken, we have only a handful of photographs.
I don’t know when it happened, but sometime in the last ten or fifteen years, I realized that the embargo had failed. It has been in place for 50 years, and still the Castros rule Cuba. That stolen idea, that stolen history, that stolen life - it was never going to be returned. This is not a popular idea within my family - my mom was not happy watching the president arrive in Cuba yesterday (though she is reflexively anti-Obama and anti-Democrat in a way that I simply do not understand, so perhaps her reaction would have been different if this happened ten years ago with George W Bush).
I am cautiously optimistic that this new policy will change things for the better. I am realistic enough to know that things will not change overnight, and that they might get worse before they get better. But these first few steps, they are not the end, they are not even the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning - they are the beginning of the beginning.
This policy, in a more general sense, is nothing new. Kennedy met with Khrushcev, Nixon went to China, Reagan met with Gorbachev, even McCain was willing to be part of the delegation that went to Vietnam. We do business with many terrible regimes (say hello to “our friends” the Saudis). We cannot continue to fight a battle that makes no sense - if Fidel and Raul were to die tomorrow and the embargo lifted the next day, it would be only a Pyrrhic victory. It would not prove the policy of the last 50 years correct. It is time to consider the future, to leave the Cold War (and the dying Cold Warriors) to the history books. I honestly believe an American presence in Cuba will help lead to a better future for Cuba, and that should be the goal - a better future for a free Cuba, not the death of two old men.
Viva la Cuba Libre