I was elated to hear U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations will begin.
At long last, thanks to President Barack Obama, some of the doors will be opened between Americans and Cubans. More than five decades of stubborn hostility may finally sputter out. Our punitive policy toward Cuba, including an economic embargo, has been an utter failure year after year.
It has long been a lunatic irony that the United States could open up relations with Communist China and prop up repressive dictators in countries throughout the world (Iran under Shah Reza Pahlavi, Chile and Nicaragua, to name just three examples) and yet slam the doors shut on Cuba.
There are a couple reasons why this new approach is a good one:
- It will allow Cubans and Americans to share ideas, technologies, cultures and aspirations. Opening up people’s minds has always been the most effective, long-term way to counter dictatorships.
- With a new openness, the two Castros (Fidel and brother Raul) will have a harder time trying to blame Cuba’s problems on the wicked Yankee Bully to the North, although the Castros have had some good reasons to fear and hate the American power structure for so many years.
Opening doors to Cuba is a momentous step, especially to those of us old enough to remember vividly the stories and images related to this island nation.
In the 1950s, Cuba had become a corrupt cesspool under its leader, Fulgencio Batista. Its capital city, Havana, had become a hot spot for gambling, prostitution and the drug trade – much of it run by mafia members from the United States. At one time, Havana was known as the “Latin Las Vegas” and Cuba was sometimes called the “Floating Casino.” American companies, directly or via proxy, virtually owned and controlled most of Cuba’s resources. Backed by American support, including weaponry, Batista’s goons tortured and executed thousands of people, fearing the forces of revolution that were brewing.
In 1959, Castro and his revolutionaries, with the help of many middle-class Cubans disgusted by the violence and corruption of Batista, ousted his regime from power. He fled with his ill-begotten fortune to the Dominican Republic, later to Portugal.
American media was filled with images of the triumphant, cigar-smoking, baseball-loving Fidel Castro, dressed always in his army fatigues. During a trip to the United States, Castro was feted by many as a liberator of his country. It wasn’t long after the world learned the young, charismatic leader was, in fact, a diehard Marxist communist and was backed by the Soviet Union.
Many Cubans, at least those who had the means, fled Cuba to the United States. Since those early years, many have also since fled in makeshift boats or rafts, some dying at sea in the attempts. The Castro regime has imprisoned “counter-revolutionaries” and executed others. Many crises followed during the John F. Kennedy years. One was the disastrous American-supported invasion of Cuba mainly by Cuban exiles. The other, one of the worst in human history, was the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, a tense stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union over that nation’s attempt to put nuclear missiles in Cuba. It was a horrific scare that could easily have led to widespread nuclear annihilation. All of us Baby Boomers vividly remember those scary days in late October when, one day, sitting in our classrooms, we and the teachers kept our eyes nervously on the classroom clock, wondering if we would be incinerated shortly after 1 p.m. Central Time Oct. 28, 1962.
In the years since then, the American embargo continued against Cuba. Mutual hostilities diminished somewhat, but the refusal to open diplomatic channels persisted for more than half a century. It didn’t make sense. Family, friends and I would discuss for hours how dumb it was for our country to support and even encourage tyrannical countries around the world and yet treat Cuba as if it’s the biggest bogeyman of all. We used to laugh about the irony that President Kennedy was known to smoke the finest Cuban cigars when they were strictly banned from the United States. And speaking of cigars, among other slapstick plots against Castro by the CIA, we learned one of them involved a plan to poison Castro’s personal stash of cigars, as loony-laughable as something out of a Marx Brothers movie.
Through the years, I have met quite a few people who have traveled to Cuba, via other countries, for educational and cultural trips. They have all been impressed by the warmth, kindness, resiliency, resourcefulness and creativity of the Cuban people. They were also astonished that, under Castro (dictator though he be), great strides were made in universal literacy, education and health care.
Now, with this diplomatic initiative, there’s room for hope the Castros or their successors will eventually loosen their reins, open the windows and let in the fresh breezes of democracy. If they don’t do it, the people will.