Every day, somewhere in Miami, I argue for helping my family members who still live on the island. If I can have a credit card, I ask, why can’t they? If I can get a job with an American company, why shouldn’t they? If I can tweet and browse and buy on the Internet, why shouldn’t they?
The answer, most often, given by my more hard-liner friends is some variation of “because of Castro.” It used to be a conversation killer in South Florida and beyond, whenever a Cuban exile was asked if we should even consider lifting the embargo. Answer: Castro’s bad. OK, sorry I asked!
Today, there’s a new version of the same old song that goes like this:
Question: Don’t you think we should be glad that American companies would now be able to do business in Cuba?
Answer: No, Castro will never let it happen, because he’ll steal the money, outsmart all U.S. corporations and furthermore, he doesn’t deserve it. Therefore, this whole business of establishing ties with Cuba to try and end the embargo for the sake of the Cuban people, they argue, is ridiculous and should be repudiated.
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It doesn’t sound like much has changed right? Actually, no — it has! And here’s how: today, for every hard-liner who respectfully makes what some would call a more antiquated, tired and very personal argument about Castro, there is an equal number of people willing to make the argument that it’s time for a change.
Take my recent conversation with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recently. She is as much a standard bearer for the Cuban community’s anti Castro activist ideology as there is anywhere in South Florida. Politics aside (she is after all a Reagan-era Republican), she deserves and has earned the right to be taken at her word when she says she truly doesn’t think the Cuban people will benefit from increased U.S. commerce on the island nation.
I should also mention here that I personally like the congresswoman and have cultivated a very respectful, cordial if not even amicable reporter/politician relationship with her for more than two decades. Still, as a Cuban exile myself, I can’t help but disagree with her. And do so vehemently.
How can this extremely intelligent, caring woman who I believe cares about the welfare of the people who carry her heritage in Cuba be against something from which they will possibly benefit? Is her hatred for Castro that intense? Or has her ideological position become so entrenched that she is incapable of even considering other options?
Then again, to be fair, she and others like her may ask, have I become soft? Have I forgotten what Castro has done to limit free speech and other freedoms on the island? How can I trust him, she might ask?
Right or wrong, my argument is simple. It’s not about my faith in Castro. It’s about my faith in change, my faith in the resourcefulness of the Cuban people and my faith in what they will be able to do if given even just a sliver of opportunity that American-styled free enterprise can provide in the form of jobs and products.
We came away from our conversation agreeing to disagree, with a complete appreciation for each other’s opinion and more importantly, not begrudging or accusing one another of not having the Cuban people’s welfare at heart.
This week, the state department announced it would begin loosening the embargo by allowing a mechanism for exports to Cuba, while also allowing Cuban imports into the U.S. It is far from perfect and crammed with limitations. For example, food and agricultural products are exempt, as are alcohol, minerals, chemicals, textiles, machinery, vehicles, arms and ammunition. That means no cigars, no Cuban rum and no old Chevys will be headed our way any time soon.
There are those who will argue that those limitations are proof that Castro is not to be trusted. I say, again, it’s not about Castro.
Granted, this week’s policy change regarding imports isn’t much. But for a people who’ve survived for decades making satellite dishes out of garbage lids and keeping jalopies running with scrap metal and bobby pins, it may be all they need to jumpstart a love affair with an American-styled system of free enterprise.
There was a time in Miami when debates about the future of Cuba were stifled; today it’s robust and vibrant. For the sake of the Cuban people, isn’t that the way it should be?