OPINION

Rick Sanchez: Listen to the Cuban people, let the romance begin

Cubans are now more openly than ever clamoring for America and what we stand for — maybe even more than we ourselves understand. It’s evident in the songs they sing, the clothes they wear and in what they’re telling pollsters. And while some in the government may not cotton to it, there’s likely no turning back on this newly stoked romance that ended bitterly more than a half century ago.   

Last week, at a nightclub in Havana, one of Cuba’s most popular bands broke out a song that is still sending shockwaves even through the hardened exile community in South Florida. There it was, N-G La Banda, on stage, praising a sitting U.S. president — and it seemed they didn’t care who was listening, not even their government minders.

“Obama, Obama get crazy and come to Havana!” they screamed, while a meme of President Obama dancing behind a podium played on the screen. It’s a scene that not long ago would have seemed downright anti-revolutionary and possibly even illegal. Back then U.S. presidents were to be condemned as imperialists, not cheered on giant plasmas. Yet that’s exactly what happened at 1:00 a.m. at “La Casa de la Musica” in the newly polished Pearl of the Antilles.  

Suddenly, American flags are everywhere. Old Glory or versions of it are hung from balconies, displayed on taxis, sewn onto jeans and flaunted across T-shirts, ironically enough, with the same enthusiasm that many young Americans have shown when displaying the image of Che Guevara.

- Rick Sanchez

There’s another unexpected outburst in Cuba these days aptly portrayed this week in The New York Times. Suddenly, American flags are everywhere. Old Glory or versions of it are hung from balconies, displayed on taxis, sewn onto jeans and flaunted across T-shirts, ironically enough, with the same enthusiasm that many young Americans have shown when displaying the image of Che Guevara.  

And just as hard-liners here lament the “Che” images, so do some hard-liners across the Florida straits. One comment on the government news site Cubadebate.com calls it unacceptable to see “a Cuban wrapped in an American flag.”

But perhaps the biggest sea change is a new poll that finds Cubans are openly critical of both their system of government and their leaders -- specifically the Castro Brothers. The poll, conducted by the Miami-based Bendixen & Amandi International Group for Univision and The Washington Post, reveals a Cuban citizenry screaming for a transformation.

It reflects a disdain for Cuba’s economic system, their political system and their way of life. But what’s most surprising about the poll is just how willing Cubans are to openly and outwardly criticize Fidel and Raul Castro, especially when compared to their assessment of U.S. President Barack Obama.  

The poll finds 62 percent of Cubans have a negative opinion of their own president Raul Castro, while 50 percent of them have a negative opinion of his older brother Fidel. Obama’s negatives, meanwhile, are only 17 percent. And while only 2 percent of Cubans have a “very negative” opinion of Obama, Raul and Fidel Castro have combined negatives in the low 40s. It’s a shocking statistical comparison, which appears to be Cuba’s new normal.

Eighty percent of Cubans have a positive opinion of President Obama, while only 47 give their own president a nod.   

But even more shocking is how Cubans seem to feel about the patriarch of their revolution. Only 11 percent have a “very positive” opinion of Fidel Castro, while 33 percent share a “somewhat positive” opinion.  

The idea that Cubans would outwardly praise a sitting U.S. president is astonishing. And the fact that Cubans are willing to rank him above their own leaders is unprecedented, although not all that surprising to those us of who consider ourselves Cuba watchers. We have long believed that Castro’s popularity was more show than go —if not just downright exaggeration.    

We’ve also believed that Cubans have long wanted to change the direction of both their political and economic systems, but have never felt neither the hope, nor the access to accomplish that change. Now they do.  

These proposed changes in U.S./Cuba relations makes them feel, for the first time in decades, both hope and access to the possibility of economic and political freedoms, which in the past they’ve only been able to dream about. What’s more, now they can even talk about it freely, because they are no longer compelled to criticize the U.S. policies intended to punish the Castros that were actually punishing them.   

Take away those policies, and watch even more American flags spring up and more pro-American songs being sung. Cubans know their system doesn’t work and are openly clamoring for a chance to take part in what does work. They desperately want to end the breakup. Let the romance begin.    

Rick Sanchez is a contributor for Fox News Latino.

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