Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hard To Handle

For decades, the right wing Cuban community in the United States has comfortably and confidently controlled the politics and discussion in the United States in regards to Cuba.  They have had the benefit of interests that coincided with the power structures in Washington and parts of corporate America, and with this alignment, they have maintained an unfortunate stranglehold on the issue of Cuba. 

They have benefited from government subsidies to create expensive radio stations with no audiences and countless other programs that benefitted nobody except a select few, who have neither the interests of Cubans on the island nor in this country in mind.  They have crafted special immigration laws for only themselves, which are viewed as unfair by many others, and have in fact been a dangerous enticement for people living in the island who either want to emigrate to the U.S. to reunite with family or have bought in to the idea of the American dream, which seems to be increasingly elusive for most people in this country.

They have had the luxury of a news media whose reference to them as exiles has painted a picture in the minds of many other Americans of a people forced from their homeland and banished forever, something that is actually not the reality.  The original wave of Cubans (post 1959) was of mainly well off people who left willingly, with the belief that soon they would return after the pesky bearded guys returned things back to "normal" or were replaced by someone who would do so.

Remnants of the Batista regime set up shop in South Florida.  Immediately, they did everything imaginable, from blockades to invasion to terrorism to try and inflict damage on the Cuban revolution, and by extension, the Cuban people suffered.

As time has gone on, much has changed and now, probably more than ever, changes are outpacing the old guard and their minions in Miami.  The Cuban community in this country has many more people here now that favor engaging with their fellow Cubans on the island.  Many of the newer arrivals suffered a great deal due to the politics of the original South Florida power brokers, the ones who long for a return to the days of pre-revolutionary Cuba.  People are now making it known that they want greater connections with people on the island.  There was incredible outrage within the Cuban community in South Florida when travel was greatly restricted under the Bush administration.  When an attempt by Diaz-Balart  to return to those restrictions was being kicked around in congress, it became obvious once again that the Batista crowd was on the wrong side of history.  The measure was dropped, exposing a growing lack of political relevance of the Diaz-Valart brand.

Not only is the Cuban community changing, but there is an increasing desire on the part of businesses and cities which would benefit from a new relationship with Cuba.  From Tampa to cities in states all over the nation, opinions pieces are carried in local media highlighting how their respective areas can benefit from an openness in U.S. policy.  Flights are now departing from many cities across the country that touch down in Cuba and they are carrying American passengers.

Cuba remains the only country for which Americans need permission from our own government to travel.  Americans are tired of it.  There is pent-up desire to travel to the forbidden island and there are many options now available that fit under one of the few categories permitted by the Treasury Department.  People are going and many are coming back with positive experiences.  Educational trips and cultural exchanges are occurring more and more often.

"I think a lot of Americans have these stereotypes — that it's a communist
country, that you don't really have any rights and people don't really like
Americans," Cohen said. "All that kind of stuff was totally untrue in our eyes."

These are the words of a college baseball player who just finished playing some games against Cuban teams on the island.

All of the changes are very positive.  The fact that the hard liners are less able to control so much on behalf of such a bitter few is very welcomed.  That's not to say that they aren't trying to hold there ground, it's just they aren't able to.  It's very hard for them to handle this new reality.  Many will simply remain in denial, the same type of denial that led there choice to leave Cuba to be twisted in to there insistence that they were exiled.  They will denounce ever step towards better relations and every honest gesture on the part of Cuba or the U.S. as having some sort of conniving move that is meant to deceive people.

Quoting Jose Manuel Palli in his analysis of the housing reforms in Cuba, "Here in Miami, we tend to discard anything we hear from Cuban officials as misleading propaganda, when in most cases we end up confirming later that what they said is exactly what they meant to say or do. "  A brutally honest description of how the "exiles" are usually in denial.

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