As US Presidential Candidates Eye Cuba, for Cubans Change is Not in Sight
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By Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo
US Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton once said that the US financial embargo of Cuba was “Castro’s best friend.” In her 2014 book, Hard Choices, she wrote that it “wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.” In a 2015 speech at Florida International University she explained her rationale: isolating Cuba was “strengthening the Castros’ grip on power rather than weakening it.”
“Engagement is not a gift to the Castros,” she said, “it is a threat to the Castros.”
Clinton’s viewpoints have shifted 180 degrees. When she was running for Senator in New York in 2000, she answered a question at the Council on Foreign Relations stating that “before the United States should lift the embargo, Castro should make some good faith show of moving toward ending repression, freeing political prisoners and some steps toward democratization.”
Clinton has the right to change her mind. But we Cubans don’t have that option in our nation, which languishes under a single-party tyranny that has lasted 57 years, one in which the Castro brothers ―and their sons and grandsons― are “engaged” only in a dynastic perpetuation in order to retain absolute control. As the international community calls for the US embargo to be lifted, the Cuban government has still not taken any “steps toward democratization.”
During the 7th congress of the Cuban Communist Party this year, while enthroning State-Monopoly Capitalism, General Raúl Castro declared that the island’s socialist system was “irrevocable”, according to the Constitution. He criticized Clinton’s approach by recalling Fidel Castro’s belligerent words from over 40 (!) years ago, making it obvious that Havana will always blame Washington, regardless of which Cuba policy the White House has adopted, “As long as imperialism exists, the Party, the State and the people will give their utmost attention to the services of defense. The revolutionary guard will never be neglected.”
Republican candidate Donald Trump has also evolved towards favoring engagement with the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere. In 2000, when his book, The America We Deserve, was published, he wrote: “Fidel is a criminal, let’s treat him like one.” And “The first time Castro leaves Cuba for any nation we have extradition treaties with, he should be detained, arrested and extradited to the U.S. for indictment and trial on charges of murder and terrorism.”
But during most of his presidential campaign Trump had cooled down, Clinton-style: “Fifty years is enough,” he said in an interview with The Daily Caller about Barack Obama’s new Cuban policy, “I think it's fine, but we should have made a better deal.” Then, this September in Miami he surprised many by stating that “all of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” which “will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners,” because his administration would “stand with the Cuban people in their fight against Communist oppression.”
Since the dawn of the Castrozoic Era in 1959, however, isolation hasn’t brought Cubans any freedom. Which concrete measures will support Cuban citizens in our fight against Communist usurpation? Tired of trying to oust Castro from their backyard, the U.S. government now seems committed to a unilateral opening towards Cuba, in a race against the geopolitical interests of Russia, China, Iran and the European Union. In this competition the Cuban people are the captive market, devoid of all fundamental freedom except the right to remain and be silent, or “commit exile”.
Many intellectuals around the world justify these narrow options by arguing that on the island Cubans have access to public education and health care, ignoring that today, both have much deteriorated and that no one should have to choose between their education and health, or liberty.
While democracy has proven to be so elusive for Cubans for decades, Western democracies now seem eager to applaud the cosmetic reforms the Castros have made, moving from a dictatorship to a dictatocracy. This is exactly what the most prominent Cuban opposition leader, Oswaldo Payá, (who won the 2002 European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought), called “fraudulent change”, before he was assassinated in Cuba by Castro’s political police in 2012. Collateral damage. Like the political activist Orlando Zapata Tamayo in 2010. Or the opposition leader Laura Pollán in 2011. For many Cubans, being a citizen constitutes a crime.
Contacts between Americans and Cubans might be a blessing for our population that is being held hostage. But Cubanologists ―and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce― presume that their mere presence in Cuba would mean a kind of “democratic recolonization” that would ultimately be the source of our liberation. We Cubans, however, are too exhausted by totalitarianism to wait for this engagement to yields its fruit.
That’s why we keep escaping the first chance we get, as shown by the current migratory crisis throughout Central America, where thousands are trying to reach the American border to apply for the Cuban Adjustment Act and become U.S. Permanent Residents. Even if the US Congress were to abolish this option, neither Clinton nor Trump, as presidents, will be able to stop this flow; the cause of which is an archeo-revolution in ruins, only 90 miles south of the wealthy Cuban-American capital of Miami. It’s a pedestrian plebiscite driven by humanitarian osmosis.
Cubans understand this newfound pragmatism is a surrogate for utopia. Since the White House fears instability and corruption in Havana, the State Department can finally proclaim that the Castros are their best bet for peace in the region, although millions of Cubans have never voted for a Castro.
The thawing of U.S.-Cuban relations is therefore a one-way ticket guaranteeing that profits can be made on the island. All cultural exchanges are but a byproduct of this process; an ethnological masquerade for left wing academics and nostalgic intellectuals. Cubans have not been invited to this banquet for foreign bankers and octogenarian barbudos. What should be the first moral concern for America is that all Cubans are eons away from being able to vote in a presidential election under the Castros.
Whether Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump become the next US President, in Cuba we are still bound to a Castrocracy. The more they try to take distance themselves from each other, the more both candidates seem to ignore just how toxic it can be to interfere with the democratic development in our hemisphere.