Wednesday, August 09, 2006

If Bush is Serious About Helping Cuba, He’d Lift the Embargo and Travel Ban

Date: Wednesday, August 09, 2006

By: Tonyaa Weathersbee,

So the Bush administration claims it won’t be planting American boots on Cuba’s beaches anytime soon.

It doesn’t have to. It’s already begun its invasion.

Buoyed by Cuban president Fidel Castro’s incapacitation after gastric surgery and the temporary transfer of power to his brother, Raul, the exile ideologues that have hijacked U.S. policy towards Cuba for more than 40 years are already pushing the administration to circle the blood in those circumstantial waters like sharks in the Caribbean. For one, it is already boosting pro-American broadcasts from TV Marti to the island, something that Havana says violates international law and would be lambasted as the decimation of propaganda if the situation was reversed. It is also discussing easing immigration rules for Cuban doctors who the Cuban government sends abroad to practice medicine in developing countries.

That smacks of a move to undermine one of the exports that has endeared impoverished countries to Castro for years.

But I’m not against Cuba making a turn towards democracy -- and if what the Bush administration is doing leads to a stronger voice and a more prosperous life for Cubans, then that’s a good thing.

What I am concerned about, however, is that this decades-old obsession with Cuba -- one that is driven by white, hard-line exiles who left the country in the wake of Castro’s revolution -- won’t allow that to happen.

I mean, these are the people who, in their failed attempts to topple Castro, have heaped mounds of suffering upon the Cuban people. How? By insisting on retaining a useless embargo law that forces Cuba to pay more money for food, medicines and all manner of basic things by restricting U.S. companies to sell most things to them.

And as black people -- at least those of us who aren’t cut from Condoleezza Rice's ideological cloth -- the idea that white exiles who benefited from the racist dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista may have a heavy a hand in shaping the future of a mostly-black Cuba ought to concern us.

First of all, the Cuba of today -- the one that I have visited eight times and have been studying for years -- isn’t the exiles’ Cuba. Not only are most of its 11 million people Afro-Cuban, but most of them have parents and relatives who grew up during the time when Cuba was segregated and overrun with gangsters. The ones I’ve talked admit that while life isn’t easy in Cuba, their opportunities now are much greater than they were before the revolution.

Many times, that seems hard to believe, considering the meager peso salaries many of them earn in jobs such as engineers and nurses. But once it’s put it in perspective, it’s clear that decades ago, Afro-Cubans weren’t able to get the kind of education that would earn them such jobs. And in a country in which education does count -- Cuba’s literacy rate is around 97 percent -- it’s easy to understand why this is such a big deal.

Which tells me something else. It tells me that the Cuban people, the mostly-black people of this island, are certainly intelligent enough to decide their own fate -- and to figure out who their friends really are. But for them to truly be able to do that when it comes to the United States, a few things must happen.

First of all, the U.S. embargo and the travel ban must end. It’s tough to persuade people that you are their friend if you’re adding to their suffering and you treat them like pariahs by not allowing folks to visit and exchange ideas with them.

Next, the Bush administration needs to shun the advice of hard-line ideologues that could make the United States appear too opportunistic right now. That will only inspire fear instead of hope.

But most of all, black people need to begin to keep a close eye on what happens to Cuba -- because the way that country has been dealt with over the years does, in many ways, mirror the experiences of people of color around the world and throughout history.

One of the reasons Haiti is so poor, for example, is because in the years since a band of slaves were successful in rising up against their masters, it had to pay a crippling indemnity to France for the loss of its human property. No country in this hemisphere would trade with Haiti until it reimbursed France for what amounted to its own oppression. Fast forward two centuries to Cuba in 1959, and it becomes clear that a huge reason for the embargo is because Castro nationalized the property of many exiles and they want compensation. But many of them were beneficiaries of the largesse heaped upon them by the Batista dictatorship. That’s why it burns me to hear right-wingers talk about a return to democracy in Cuba.

They don’t know jack.

But to me, the fact that several U.S. administrations continue to prize the lives and the advice of exiles who haven’t been to Cuba in decades over the people who have remained in Cuba reminds me of the kind of marginalization that people of color -- especially poor people of color -- have to deal with around the world. And I hate the fact that few of us can legally travel to Cuba -- a place where we can connect with a vibrant, Afro-Cuban culture that holds a key part of our history as Africans in the Americas -- because a bunch of white exiles believe their interests trump our heritage.

I hate that.

That’s why right now, if the Bush administration is serious about having the Cuban people to carve out their own future, it should offer them real help by lifting the embargo and the travel ban.

And leave the ideology to them.

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