Friday, August 11, 2006

Cuba: Time for hatred has passed

Article Launched: 08/11/2006 01:00:00 AM MDT

Guest Commentary | Denver

By Guillermo Vidal

Fidel Castro's unprecedented transfer of power to his brother, Raul, signals that his 47-year tenure as Cuba's sole political boss may soon be over. Like a sleeping volcano that has been waiting to erupt, the anger of exiled Cubans in the United States has exploded at this astonishing news. Within moments of the public announcement, Miami Cubans gathered in droves to joyfully anticipate Castro's death.

As a Cuban refugee myself, I am aghast at the intensity of the fury that still lives in so many of my compatriots. Not since Nov. 25, 1999, when a 5-year-old boy named Elian Gonzales was plucked from shark-infested waters and temporarily given refuge in the United States, have Americans witnessed this boundless hatred towards Castro, which seems so irrational.

One only has to reflect on any of the Cuban exile stories to understand where this hatred comes from. My family's own story is a case in point. The first days following the revolution in 1959 were a euphoric time. Batista's reign had been so cruel, and the disparity so great between the rich and poor, that Castro's victory was celebrated. But the ruthlessness of the firing squads, the confiscation of businesses, the suppression of the Catholic Church and the turning to the Soviets for help soon led to chaos. By the fall of 1961, my parents lived in such fear for their own lives and those of their children that they made the wrenching decision to send my two brothers and me, unaccompanied, to the United States as part of "Operation Peter Pan".

We were placed in an orphanage in Pueblo, where we waited until 1964 before being reunited with them. For the next two decades, we experienced the emotional, cultural and financial difficulties of immigrants. The loss of the economic and social status that had sustained my parents in Cuba inflicted in them a psychological wound that would never heal. It is these kinds of experiences that seeded this hatred for Castro.

Without question, Fidel Castro has been the most disruptive force in my life. My family and I suffered greatly and our lives were changed forever, but this suffering does not give me permission to rejoice in another's affliction, nor does it become an excuse to support policies that make 11 million people endure hardship. Betraying the ideals of the revolution is considered to be Castro's greatest betrayal of the Cuban people, but we Cubans also betray these same ideals when we continue to support hard-line candidates and strategies, such as the embargo, that keep Cuba in poverty. In these past 47 years, the U.S. has made peace with China and Vietnam. If we can find peace with these countries, surely we can find a more constructive relationship with Cuba.

Yet there are those who remain convinced that exiled Cubans can one day return to their homeland and govern it with the help of the United States.

This mind-set denies the virtual certainty that Cubans will fight for the continuation of their self-rule after Fidel's long tenure, and that they would view a new government established by the U.S. - even if fronted by Cuban exiles - as a puppet. It is also naïve to believe that contemporary Cubans would willingly move out of their homes and return them to their previous owners.

The end of Fidel's era may soon come. We should rejoice only that this will provide the U.S. with the opportunity to normalize our relationship with the Cuban people. A good start would be ending the embargo and re-establishing diplomatic relations.

Yes, we exiled Cubans suffered, but we made good lives for ourselves in this country. We should abandon our hatred once and for all and commit ourselves to helping our brothers and sisters still in Cuba improve their lives as well.

Guillermo Vidal is Denver deputy mayor and manager of public works.

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