I’ve had a personal policy adviser on Cuba for years.
My cousin Jesse is half Cuban and most of his father’s side of the family still lives there. He’d return from trips to visit them, questioning how much Americans knew or understood about what life was like for the Cuban people.
He saw how a half-century of economic warfare waged by the United States had hurt people, especially in rural areas. Modern farming and industrial equipment, building supplies, electronic devices and other necessities for economic development were largely unavailable.
But despite the poverty and difficulties driven by American Cold War policies, Jesse spoke passionately about how smart, resourceful and high-spirited the Cuban people remained.
He never denied or debated the paranoid wrongness of Castro government restrictions on freedom of speech and information. But he noted the government had been pushed into paranoia mode by the CIA’s infamously bungled 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and remained stuck there in the face of ongoing, intense American hostility.
Jesse talked in glowing terms about Cuba’s top-notch, free education system, responsible for a 100 percent national literacy rate; and about free, universal “cradle to grave” health care responsible for some of the lowest infant mortality and highest life expectancy numbers on earth.
He wondered how many Americans knew about these truths, and questioned whether we’d ever get past the distortions, hostility and angry rhetoric perpetuated by so many conservative politicians, pundits and old-school, anti-Castro Cuban Americans.
We’d sit together at Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium watching the Knicks and Yanks, dreaming of a day when I might join him on one of his Cuban trips.
Then came now.
Now, President Obama has moved us one big step forward with his executive order normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, opening a U.S. embassy in Havana, and easing other restrictions a bit.
To Jesse, to me and to millions of other Americans – including a whole lot of Cuban Americans – this was a no-brainer whose time had come years and years ago, but which had to wait till we had a president with Barack Obama’s cujones to be issued.
The bottom line on America’s Cuban policy has been glaringly evident for a long time. It’s an abject failure, and has been since before the Cuban revolution that ousted American-supported dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
For more than 50 years, our American government has tried its best to turn the Cuban people with their 100 percent literacy and their free universal health care into victims who would rise up against their government.
All it accomplished, in painful irony, was to rob those people of resources and opportunities that might help them embrace “The American Way,” from freedom of speech and dissent, to free-market capitalism and consumerism.
The fact that ambitiously pandering political ideologues like Florida’s junior U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio don’t get that, or won’t admit they get it, only speaks to their increasing irrelevance.
Their overblown indignation, insulting and unpatriotic attacks on our president, and angry war of words against diplomatic engagement with Cuba will continue.
But now that President Obama has put us on the right path, it must in all fairness and wisdom lead to ending the economic war waged against the Cuban people so long.
And … we have to lift the travel embargo altogether, too, or at least open it up to allow cousins to take cousins to see family.
Daniel Tilson has a Boca Raton-based communications firm called Full Cup Media, specializing in online video and written content for non-profits, political candidates and organizations, and small businesses. Column courtesy of Context Florida.