Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Havana Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Here

I think I speak for anyone with a lick of sense when I say, at last!:
HAVANA, April 15 (Xinhua) -- The decision by the U.S. government to change its strategy and lift some restrictions on Cuba have aroused multiple reactions in the island, among which there are hopes of a start to the end of the decades-old economic blockade.

    On Easter Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on travel and money transfers to Cuba, opening a crack in a 47-year-old embargo against Havana.

    Obama also authorized U.S. telecommunication firms to open up investments in Cuba, as well as to hire radio and television satellite services for people in the Caribbean nation.

    The new measures overturned the policy imposed in 2004 by the Bush White House. The "Transition Plan toward a Free Cuba," also know as Plan Bush, limited money remittances from Cuban Americans to their families to 300 U.S. dollars every quarter, and visits to the island once every three years with each lasting no longer than14 days.

The blockade and embargo of Cuba made sense when it was a close ally and satellite of the long-defunct Soviet Union. After all, it was only 90 miles from the shores of America, and the Soviets had already shown a propensity for dangling that fact in front of our faces. Even the retention of a foothold on the island (Guantanamo Bay) has become a bit of an anachronism and even a sore spot for American foreign policy.
I've flown over Cuba. Looking down from 35,000 feet, it looks absolutely beautiful, unlike nearly every other Caribbean island I've ever been to or flown over. Hardly like this massive threat to American security and interests that Republicans and Cuban-American partisans have painted it to be.
Which highlights the narrowness of American policy towards Cuba. A lot of what we've done recently has been to placate a bunch of people who are 50 years beyond ownership of land and property on the island, whose families now have stronger ties to Nebraska than to Havana. The pitiful "reforms" accomplished under Plan Bush were nearly meaningless and paid lip service to the greatest weapon America has in transforming Cuba back to our greatest ally: economic strength and generosity.
You say you want a revolution? Free the minds of the people. Right now, every European nation has visa exchanges with Cuba, including our strongest allies. The average Cuban gets American culture second- or third-hand. Why not give it to them, straight up?
Once Cubans see images that aren't Elian Gonzalez-ised, once they see that America is a great and good land filled with great and good people, once they see that the vast majority of Americans would love nothing more than to point a boat south and hit the tropics rather than stand around government offices in Miami, shouting "Death To Castro", they'll get it.
They'll see us. We'll see them. And we'll understand that these people, these resilient and stoic people who for fifty years have lived in fear and hatred of a nation that truly means them no harm-- save for a bunch of arrogant assholes and their political operatives who have all been marginalized now-- have much to teach us.
After all, they've lived in a northern umbra of fear and hatred and assumed it was universally shared in the lands above them on the globe. We need to free these people, both of their fears of us, but also of their fears of freedom. This will not require guns or weapons or armies or even money.
It will require me with a camera, and you with a passport, and him with some scuba equipment, and her with a phrasebook. Shiny happy people. Real Americans.
Wherever I go in the islands, I am struck by how negative the image is of Americans "except for you guys, of course". It could be the Caymans or Bahamas or Bonaire or Aruba or Jamaica. It doesn't matter. There is this amorphous image of Americans as fat, lazy, stupid and arrogant people.
Here, in Cuba, we have a chance to work with a fresh slate. In the course of this rollback of the embargo and blockade, I urge President Obama to encourage Americans to become involved in Cuba and with Cuban lives. We're all of us responsible for the tragic policies of the past fifty years, even if at times they were deemed necessary evils.
We have voices. We did not use them. We let others with an agenda speak for us, and they said the wrong things in our names.
We need to show the Cuban people that we want to help bring them up to speed, to enjoy the bounties of our friendship and good relations with among neighbors.
After all, there's only so many Cuban cigars I can smoke! You guys are going to have to help pick up the slack a bit.