This blog's title means "Cuban-hearted woman" (very loosely translated!). I settled on this name because it had a nice ring to my unschooled ear and, more importantly, because I think the Cuban people seem to have so much
heart, and they're in my heart for that reason. In general, the people I've met in Cuba are quite consistently open-hearted and big-hearted in the way they relate to each other or to visitors in their beautiful land. A piece of my heart now resides in Cuba, with the warm, wonderful friends I've made there. This blog is not intended to be a guide to Cuba, just a forum for my eclectic bits of writing – poetry, opinion pieces and information gleaned from my personal experience and reading.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Embargo's golden anniversary: failure to thrive

This is an open letter to whomever it may concern, including President Barack Obama.

Dear Mr. O.,

Let me start by stating that I don't really like politics; I'm not a fan of any blood sport. You, however, seem more human and humane than many politicians. Maybe I'm a deluded optimist but I believe you have a little more integrity than most of your power-seeking predecessors in that big white house, and I think you have a heart.

As of this month, February 2012, it has been a full 50 years since JFK authorized an economic embargo against Cuba. It has remained in place under 10 U.S. presidents and a pair of Castros but, in all that time, what has been accomplished? The indefatigable Cuban government soldiers on – including many of the old guard who physically fought to liberate the country from Batista, a truly bloody politician. If the goal was to crush the country's spirit and arm wrestle the Cuban government into financial submission, it hasn't worked. After half a century, isn't it time to call it a draw and move on to projects that will actually benefit humanity?

I've been to Cuba a few times and, let me tell you, those folks are incredibly resilient, resourceful and more than a tad bit stubborn. They are not going to roll over and show you their bellies. They've been through worse and survived. In fact, they didn't just survive, they sang and danced.

But, Mr. O., I want you know, this continued blockade is hard on the politically innocent people of the country; I'm thinking, in particular, of the Cubans who are younger than the embargo. They have free education and free health care but they don't always have enough food, jobs are scarce as hen's teeth and the light at the end of the tunnel is very dim. Yet, they survive. They make do. They help each other. They barter. They work under the table. They make friends with tourists. As a whole, they're very friendly people, hard working and incredibly family oriented. That may be what has kept them going in dark times – their strong sense of camaraderie which, to my mind, echoes the attitudes of the Dirty '30s in America.

The national feeling of all being in it together, I suspect, is part of the reason why this 50-year-old embargo has not worked. When people stand together, it's hard to knock 'em down. Why keep trying? The country is not doing as well as it could be but they're not going to give up.

If Cuba were a child, one might diagnose it as having FTT – failure to thrive. Havana Times writer Fernando Ravsberg recently interviewed Johana Tablada, the deputy director of the North American Division of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said just that. He asked her about the damage this protracted embargo has done and she stated: "...the essential harm is that Cuba has been prevented from developing itself to its full potential." [The full article is worth reading, as is a related piece by Ravsberg.] Cuba is surviving but not thriving.

Despite their collective struggles, however, the Cuban people have accomplished a lot, particularly in the world of medicine – Cuban doctors and other medical personnel are internationally renowned. I think you know more about this "soft diplomacy" than I do, Mr. O., since you commented on it at the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009. [For more information on this topic, here's a link.] In addition to medicine, Cubans excel at many things, from music to baseball; I can't help but wonder what they could accomplish if the embargo did not impede their progress. They've done so well while merely surviving, what could they achieve if they were given the freedom to thrive?

Fifty years have passed, Mr. O. Rather than mark the golden anniversary of a dismal decree, why not make this a golden opportunity for positive change? Shouldn't the next generation of Cuban children be given a better chance to have productive lives? Wouldn't the world be improved, overall, if Cubans had more freedom to pursue economic opportunities through trade and travel? I'm no political analyst but, from my humble, semi-educated perspective, I believe it would.


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