Saturday, January 3, 2009

Viva Cuba Libre!

by Pa Rock
Citizen Journalist

It's been fifty years now since Fidel Castro and his ragtag group of revolutionaries managed to drive the American backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista, and the American mafia (Meyer Lansky and company) out of Cuba. Castro, an ardent socialist who received some of his formal education in New York City, quickly ran afoul of American interests when he began nationalizing foreign businesses that were located on the island.

Many propertied Cubans fled, mainly to Florida, where they and their descendants have been vocally and politically active for decades promoting the isolation of Cuba and the overthrow of the Castro government. The isolation of Cuba, basically a U.S. embargo, has been laughably ineffective, and as for the overthrow of Castro...well, for the time being at least, that mouse still roars. And when El Jefe is gone, his system of government, which has benefited the island's poor with education, health care, and at least a modicum of hope, is unlikely to revert back to the way things were in the 1950's. That ship has sailed.

But things may be on the verge of changing. A recent poll of Cuban-Americans reveals that the younger generation is less rabidly anti-Castro than their parents and grandparents. Now, fifty-five percent of Cuban-Americans favor ending the U.S. embargo. American businesses and agriculture are also making noises about easing restrictions on trade so that they can have access to the Cuban markets. Add to that mix the fact that in a little over two weeks the United States will have a thoughtful and intelligent President who isn't under the thumb of the anti-Castro rabble in south Florida, and change in U.S.-Cuban relations may truly be at hand.

The United States still does not allow ordinary citizens to visit the island nation of Cuba, but thousands of Americans are going nonetheless. Cultural exchanges and visits are allowed, so ball teams and college tours can generally expect to be granted permission to travel there. Also, trade missions are becoming more frequent as businesses begin exploring the opportunities that await. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter visited a couple of years ago, sending the Bush administration into fits of apoplexy.

And ordinary Americans are also visiting Cuba, even without the blessing or permission of their government. They are, of course, breaking the law. The two most common ways of entering Cuba are to sail in on a luxury sailboat or yacht (which the rich have been doing for years), or to fly in from another country. Lee Harvey Oswald had no trouble travelling to Mexico and then buying an airline ticket to Havana. Many of today's American tourists enter by way of Canada.

Americans love to travel and shop. Anyone with a valid passport and the price of a plane ticket can walk the streets of Moscow or the Great Wall of China. Why must simple tourism continue to be criminalized when it comes to Cuba?

My hope is that the Obama administration will finally bring an end to this hoary vestige of the Cold War. It is time that these two international neighbors abandon their bellicosity and dark intrigues, and get on with the task of being good and helpful neighbors. Each would benefit from the experience.

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