Obama Goes To Cuba — Why It’s Time

“That’s something else,” I said last night as I saw Air Force One rolling down the runway in José Martí International Airport. In case you were watching March madness and missed it, that’s Havana’s airport, as in Cuba, that not-so-little island ninety miles south of Key West.

“Yeah, that’s something else,” you might say with me. Or not. Especially if you’re not quite sure what to do with this development or can’t tell what it means or why it matters.

In some ways, I’m there with you. Ambivalence serves as the vessel to a muddle of confused feelings and opposing ideas.

Yet, when I add it all up, I have to say to myself, “It’s time.” The status quo that has persisted from the early 1960s has run its course, yielded its fruit — little of it, from where I sit — and it’s time for new approach.

Yes, as someone who grew up in Communist Cuba, suffered some of the political oppression it dishes out, finally coming to the U.S. in 1980’s Mariel Boatlift, I wish this opening had come in a different form. I wish the current administration had pressed harder for improvements in human rights for Cubans. I wish the road to engagement had included the buy-in of Congress, to, among other things, present a unified front and lift the embargo.

But I will trust and pray for those things to come. Their absence doesn’t change the fact that, regardless of our apprehensions and the imperfections of current proceedings, it’s time.

As someone who also suffered economic deprivation and oppression, I say it’s time to show Cubans the failings of Communism — how it can’t provide the opportunities they desire — by opening up the floodgates of commerce and economic enterprise.

Will the influx of greenbacks buttress the Cuban power structure? Sure. But the absence of them hasn’t brought the regime crashing down. So why not let the Cuban people see what imperialist capitalism can do first-hand? Why not let them compare open commerce to what they’ve endured for the last fifty-plus-painful-change years?

One of my most vivid memories growing up in Cuba came during a time when the government allowed Cuban-Americans to come visit their families in Cuba. They came with bulging suitcases. These contained many goods not available in Cuba. Most notable among them? LEE jeans. (Trivia tidbit: LEE is the present tense for “read” in Spanish). Soup bullion (compact, easy to pack) and various medicines (that the free health care system couldn’t provide) also enjoyed popularity.

But back to LEE jeans… they were a hit. Cuban kids couldn’t get enough of them. They became a popular cultural marker. How had they lived so long without them? No one came out and said it (lack of freedom of speech does that). But along with the American music that came with it, I saw a shift in attitudes. People got it. They could have more. And their government couldn’t give it to them.

Of course, the rebuttal came just as swiftly. The nasty American embargo was at fault. OK, so it’s time for the next rebuttal. Let’s take away the scape-goat excuse. Let’s open it up, all the way up. The people will get it.

It’s time.

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