Fifty years ago today Fidel Castro declared victory in his rebellion against Fulgencio Baptista-who fled Cuba the day before-and has since survived ten U.S. presidential administrations, assassination attempts, the Bay of Pigs invasion, a missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war, the fall of the Soviet Union (its largest economic benefactor), and the U.S. embargo that has been in place since 1961.
As I wrote in my book, Inheriting the Trade, when my cousins and I visited Cuba in 2001 while making Katrina Browne’s documentary film, Traces of the Trade, I was struck by the stark contrast between what I expected to find-based on my education and what I’d learned from U.S. media-and what I actually encountered.
When we flew back to New York from José Marti International Airport in Havana the most profound observation I took home with me was the confirmation that repression of any kind-tyranny, war, isolation, embargo, etc-causes the most harm to the moms and dads and sons and daughters who want to live their lives in peace just like you and me.
The embargo against Cuba is absurd. It is the height of hypocrisy. If the United States applied equal logic to other totalitarian regimes that restrict the actions of their people and imprison political dissenters we would have an embargo in place against China and several other countries (including, at times, our own). The embargo is a cold war relic that remains in place out of habit, not logic.
In 1959 Walter Lippman said,
For the thing we should never do in dealing with revolutionary countries, in which the world abounds, is to push them behind an iron curtain raised by ourselves. On the contrary, even when they have been seduced and subverted and are drawn across the line, the right thing to do is to keep the way open for their return.
Lippman was right in 1959. His words remain true today.
During the presidential primary campaign Barack Obama declared his willingness to meet with Raul Castro. He has promised a change in the way we approach foreign policy. He modified his language during the general campaign when-at least I hope this is the case-he felt he had to appear stronger, more militaristic, in his battle against John McCain. The campaign is over. It is time to lead. What will President Obama do?
Even a majority of the Cuban population in Florida now favors lifting the embargo. According to a poll taken just last month by the Institute for Public Opinion Research at Florida International University, 55% of Cuban-Americans in Miami-Dade County, Florida support ending the embargo. 79% believe the U.S. embargo of Cuba hasn’t worked very well, or not at all.
We now have the opportunity to approach our relationship with Cuba in a more humane, and sane, fashion than we have since the Eisenhower administration. It is time to do so. For the friends I met in 2001, with whom I have not been able to communicate since, for Arsenio, Francisco, Yanisuska, Yudania, Daniela, Yaima, Rosa, Ronel, and Aris, it is time.
End the embargo that continues to unnecessarily harm the people of Cuba. This is change we can believe in.