Castro – End of an Era?

February 22, 2008

Most Cubans who immigrated to the US after Fidel Castro’s takeover of the Cuban government in 1959 suffered greatly.  As one of those Cubans, I am compelled to comment on Fidel’s long-awaited resignation from power.   It is not surprising that Cubans believe that our hatred towards the Castros is well justified.  We use this hatred to fuel our support for an American foreign policy that is meant to squeeze the life out of Cuba – hoping that someday the Castros will be overthrown and our island nation return to the Cuba we left behind.  We have lived with this fantasy for so long that now Castro’s resignation simply fans the flames of our passion and hatred for these men and we are comfortable continuing to oppress Cuba until the satanic brothers have vanished from existence.

Although for decades I warmly endorsed this ideology and fueled my own hatred for the Castro brothers, my visit to Cuba in 2001 changed my perspective.  I began to realize that my desire for revenge and punishment for these two men, who had so profoundly changed my life, was blinding me to the suffering of the Cuban people that was being thrust upon them by the American policies towards Cuba that I had supported.   Yes, it is true that Castro did many things at the beginning of his reign of terror that weren’t right.  There are countless of stories about firing squads, false imprisonment, confiscation of property and disruptive chaos to fill volumes of books – my own story, Boxing for Cuba, is testimony to that.  Clearly the Castros have held on to power for too long – stifling free elections that should have been held long ago.  It is also clear that the communism they brought to my homeland has not worked as an economic and political system.   But we have concentrated on hating the Castros for so long, that we failed to recognize the failure of the American policies towards Cuba. 

Clearly the embargo has not brought Castro to his knees, in fact, I believe it has empowered Castro’s influence over his people, as they see him as the embodiment of the Cuban spirit that is everpresent in its fight against the imperialistic Yankee oppressors.   The embargo has also helped to keep the Cuban people impoverished and isolated from the rest of the world.  Since over 75% of the people were born after the Castros took over the reigns of the Cuban government, it has been fairly simple to keep the Cubans from knowing anything else.

Although we may not want to admit it, there are also some positive things about Cuba.  First of all, Cubans have complete access to free education and free health care.  Cubans are incredibly ingenious and creative, proof of this is how they can fix anything – look at how they keep those old American cars still running.  Cubans have grown so accustomed to doing without that they have become experts in applying conservation and “green” strategies.  This is a basic part of their culture that has simultaneously engendered in them a great sense of community unity to work for the common good of all.  Cuba has also become a racially integrated country as well.   One does find poverty in Cuba, but I have seen worse poverty in Mexico, Costa Rica, and even in some parts of the US.  All of these great attributes about the Cuban people convinced me that Cuba can flourish into a great country if given the chance.  Athough some of the blame rightfully falls squarely on the Castros, it is clear that the US policies of isolation and the embargo have become after all of this time simply cruel and unjust barriers to Cuba’s ability to succeed.

Castro’s resignation is clearly the end of an era, or is it? Are we now just going to hate Raul Castro in order to continue our support for these stale and failed policies from the Cold War era?  Or can we leave our hatred behind and begin thinking about what is best for the 11 million inhabitants of this island nation?  It is my sincere hope that we turn this historical event into a symbol that will motivate us to, at a minimum, open up trade and diplomatic relations with Cuba.  Without question, we Cuban immigrants have suffered, but in the end we have built better lives for ourselves that are full of hope and promise.  There are 11 million people in Cuba who deserve a a similar chance at a better life, and it is time that all of us in our adopted country join together to help them.  I beleive that true Cuban patriots would work unite in this effort.

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