It’s hard to comment on something that hasn’t yet taken place, but we can certainly comment on the attitudes of certain people. Cuba has announced plans to hold a meeting with Cubans living in the United States in Washington at the end of April. There is a recognition on the part of many people, in both countries, that the bonds between people are more important than the politics that often dominate relations.
It is this recognition that is likely the reason for such a meeting to be called. The attitudes of the Cuban community living in this country has evolved over the years. Those who arrived at the beginning of the revolution, who have played a large role in creating the policies implemented by Washington in regards to Cuba have an idea that the island should be cut off and strangled to the point that conditions would become ripe for the revolution to fail. Many of them have stopped at nothing to create tensions between the two countries and peoples.
The Cold War was a time in which the fear of communism and the view that communists could not be dealt with prevailed to such a degree that propaganda was enough to make many Americans believe that Cuba was a threat, an enemy. So maintaining an aggressive policy towards the island was an easy thing to convince people to accept. Things have since changed. Americans no longer view Cuba in this context. Lots of Americans scratch their heads and wonder why Cuba is still off limits to them.
Many years have passed and many more Cubans have come to the United States. The last large wave of immigrants was during the 1990′s when the Cold War had been declared over, Washington decided to further squeeze the Cuban nation, and the Special Period did in fact make life very difficult for people on the island. Those who came during that time period have maintained close relationships with their loved ones and many of those people have the opinion that the policies of the United States are counterproductive, not only in not achieving the goal of eliminating the revolution, but also counterproductive in the sense that it unnecessarily puts a great strain on families separated by such a small body of water.
A growing number of people are truly interested in changing the status quo, the deadlock that has lasted for decades. Many people are interested in helping their homeland, their brothers and sisters, as things change. There can be new opportunities for cooperation, something that hasn’t always been the case. Their voices have been heard loudly as they made their discontent known when the representatives of the old guard tried to barriers to travel and even earlier than that when many felt that Elian Gonzalez was better off with his father in Cuba rather than have him turned into a political prize for the forces of extremism in Miami. A recognition of family bonds as being more important than political ideologies.
With the situation in Cuba changing, and by this I don’t mean Cuba submitting itself to the will of Washington, but a process of correcting certain problems that have arisen do to the situation in the world, possibilities exist now more than ever during the last 50 years for relations to develop more harmoniously. The politicians in Washington may do their best to pretend that things like this aren’t happening, but the people involved, on both sides, are anxiously awaiting the future.
There are of course the skeptics who struggle to make sense of the new reality. They suggest that this is a ploy by the government of Cuba to increase remittances simply to bring in more cash. They want to ignore that things are changing, both here and there. Some accuse the government of “milking the exiles” because they refuse to accept how people really feel and that bridges are being built. Some choose to slander those who would like better relations (which is nothing new), calling them cowards. Having almost run out of steam, the pro-embargo crowd is stuck sounding more out of touch than ever. They haven’t the ability to stop the desires of peoples so they just resort to old and worn out excuses and label people as traitors and other things that reveal the bankruptcy of their position.
These people can say whatever they’d like to convince themselves that they are right or might still have the upper hand in the debate. But the policy of refusing to engage Cuba is one that has unsustainable. It is of no use to anyone except those who make their livings based on the anti-Castro industry. They can’t stop the feelings that have become prevalent among the Cuban community in the United States. They can choose to live in denial until the end of time, prisoners of their own cynicism. They can try to promote the idea that the Cuban government is our enemy and can’t be trusted, while their own policies have caused the most harm to people. Let them be sidelined if they’d like. As Carlos Saldrigas, a Cuban American businessman said, “If one hopes to influence, or be part of the solution, one has to be part of the process.” The hard liners obviously not only don’t want to be part of the process of reconciliation, but want to prevent it.
Hopefully the meeting will be a fruitful one. I wish the best for all those who will participate. Perhaps it will shed more light on the feelings so often ignored as the terrible game of politics tends to overshadow them. And hopefully the administration will take notice and find the political courage to take positive steps towards normalizing relations between the two countries. There is much to be gained from such a meeting and opportunities shouldn’t be squandered.