Cuba, The Interview and What Comes Next
I, like the other 1.7 million Cuban-Americans residing in the continental United States, woke up December 17th to a world that had changed. Whether you were born in the United States or Cuba, your identity has been linked to this small island off the coast of Florida and the failed policies of the United States.
Cuba, The Interview and What Comes Next
I, like the other 1.7 million Cuban-Americans residing in the continental United States, woke up December 17th to a world that had changed. Whether you were born in the United States or Cuba, your identity has been linked to this small island off the coast of Florida and the failed policies of the United States. These polices includes the embargo, Helms-Burton and extend to covert missions like the Bay of Pigs to absurd assassination plots with exploding cigars. The headline of normalizing relations was shared with the absurd story of North Korean hackers who have brought a Hollywood studio to their knees. Fffty-two years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, we have the North Korean Hacker Crisis of The Interview. We live in an absurd world and Cuba is now proudly out in front. A very real dictator and his brother have made amends, while the last lonely cold war dictator sends scorched earth messages over a Seth Rogan movie. Absurd indeed.
I believe the United States has a fascination with Cuba and Cubans. We are the exotic, last bastion of untouched, your sex gods and goddesses and unapproachable fast talking Spanish speakers. Those missile crisis Latinos who vote Republican, welcome you to the Miami, Buena vista social clubbing, Jay-Z and Beyonce conga line dancing, best cigar having, mojito drinking, Scarface mayn say hello to my Castro beard, Che keychain swinging, baseball playing, Elian Gonzalez clamoring, flag waving, strong ass coffee swigging, rum chugging people. Part of this fascination has been kept in place by a fifty-year embargo. This is a consumer culture and Cuban culture is in high demand because of the rule of supply and demand, no one supplies it so the USA demands it. Now that the doors are open we’re likely to find more and more articles referring to reviews of Cuban cigars and Buzzfeed top ten vacation spots than political prisoners and human rights. I cringe at this and the first friend who messages me asking for advice on where to go, I promise I’ll unfriend you.
There are many different opinions of what the events December 17th, 2014 actually mean. They run the gambit from traitorous screams against “that Commie Obama” on Calle Ocho, to tears of joy in the streets of places as far as Wyoming and Saint Tropez. Cubans on the island rejoice an end of one thing and a reunion with their cousins. Cubans that left recently know also of the possibilities of what tomorrow could bring; their journey to leave, still fresh on their mind. For many, it has been a lifetime of pain, suffering and detachment. Yoani Sanchez, long telling the world in micro sized bites the story of Cuba, had this wise statement the other day, “An era is ending and I hope that what now begins is the role of a civic society.” I think we all can hope for that. Personally, the son of 1960 refugees, I fall someplace in between it all, I’m still trying to figure it out.
President Obama quickly undid all of the back and forth squabbling that has incensed and fueled Cubans for the five decades. In part, it seems to have been catalyzed by a USAID agent who was caught absurdly passing out satellite phones on the island. The big trade came with the Cuban 5 whose exploits and associates brought downed two planes over international waters in 1996. At that point during Bubba’s administration, there was no retaliatio. No Gulf of Tolkien, No remember the Maine! and certainly not what will come in retaliation for the shelving of the Interview.
What happened the other day was not the change any of us really expected but being Cuban you get used to the absurd. You see, absurdity holds us all together, regardless of where we fall and what state or party line. You’ve heard the one about the kids go to Castro and he asks them what they want to be when they grow up? The first kid says, I want to be a revolutionary. Castro beams with pride, the second kid, says he wants to be a doctor and serve the country, and again Castro smiles and strokes his beard. Then the third says, after a long pause and says, “I want to be a tourist!” and Castro just says, “Sorry kid, it will never happen.” This joke still holds true right now and gets us some cheap laughs. Some of us had hoped for an invasion, regime change, that sort of thing. Others looked to democratic movements like the Valera project to usher in a wave of democracy. Even some others hoped for a twitter-like, Cuban-Spring-like events that would tumble the Castro brothers into the ocean. Nope, none of that has happened. Instead policy papers and backroom deals in the Vatican have filled our TV screens. Is this bitter, sweet or bittersweet? It’s both, all three it’s something and we’re going to have to wait and see what this all means.
As we do sort this out though, we must not forget—all of us, Cubans, gringos, yumas, all of us, that there has not been change in 50 years in Cuba because of more than just this embargo. There has not been change because of a repressive regime that has quashed all dissidents and bloodied the water with lives lost and spent imprisoning those that wanted freedoms, freedoms that we hold dear in the United States. There have been many more than 50 political prisoners in Cuba. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National reconciliation, an independent human rights group, accounts for over 2,000 at last count, have been detained arbitrarily (2). Cuba’s story in these last 50 years must be heard and until Cuba is truly free there will not be dancing in the streets, at least not by me. On the other side of the coin, the reason we all got into this mess was because the United States used Cuba little more than as a boozey-narco-vacay-state, a role I’m worried continues to have its exotic appeal. Respect and understanding of Cuban sovereignty and ability to maintain self-rule is critical. So my fellow United States citizens, I ask you to hold off on your dance party as well.
We live in a society of absurdities and the picking apart of the invisible sea wall that separated Cubans in Miami and Havana has now come tumbling down to the bottom of the ocean. Our fractured people from all corners of the world, some in exile, some blacklisted from returning, some scared to return, some ready to return—all of us—now have to rethink and rediscover what it means to be Cuban and what it will mean in the future. This is the next conversation and one that I am excited that we are beginning to have. We welcome it, no, we need it.
Oh, and those of you with eyes on the beaches and the great service, with dreams of returning with handfuls of Cohibas and all the bottles of rum that Cuba can offer, well, I’m glad I don’t have to listen to you rave about your vacations for at least a little while.
Alexis Enrico Santí is the Coordinator of Travel Safety at Cornell University and a published poet.