Cuba’s civil rights record must improve for its renewed US ties to bear fruit
Cuba’s civil rights record must improve for its renewed US ties to bear
Damarys Ocaña Perez
I want to show my two-year-old daughter my birth country, but I can’t
bring her there if more openness doesn’t follow the new US-Cuba relationship
Cuban Americans, like me, are asked for our opinion on the island
constantly – by our friends and family, our bosses and doctors, our
grocers and bartenders, as well as by total strangers.
That was true even before President Obama announced a rekindling of
relations with Cuba in December, and it’s true this week, as John Kerry
travels to Havana to raise the flag at the newly reopened American
embassy, the first Secretary of State to visit since World War II.
Whenever anyone asks me for my thoughts on the renewed US-Cuba
relations, I tend to take a deep breath and say: “It’s complicated.” I’m
skeptical. I’m angry. I’m hopeful. When it comes to Cuba, I contain
multitudes. How could it be otherwise?
How could I not hope that a new approach – any approach, really – by the
US to Cuba be better than one that has delivered only stagnation for
decades? Now that the decision has been made to improve relations, I can
only hope that it can eventually lead to better lives for my family in
Cuba and an opportunity for my two-year-old daughter to discover the
place where I was born.
But for that longed-for openness to really stick, Cuba needs to stop
treating civil rights as optional. I can’t possibly ignore that the
Cuban government arrested 90 protesters during a peaceful march last
Sunday, less than a month after it opened an embassy in Washington DC.
In June alone, Cuba made some 630 political arrests, according to the
Cuban Observatory for Human Rights. Also disturbing are reports that US
legislators visiting the island since the thaw in relations have stopped
visiting dissidents, as they did before December 17. That makes me
question how invested the US is on not just bringing economic
opportunity to Cuba but basic human rights as well, even as Kerry said
that there are still many issues that divide the two governments,
calling the ongoing effort to complete normalization “long and complex.”
I grew up in Miami, a place where if you were Cuban-American, there
seemed to be only one acceptable way to feel about the nearly
non-existent US-Cuba relationship: vindicated, because freezing out
Fidel meant that we held some power to punish him and end his rule. I
felt that way, too. For me, the pain that Cuban exiles feel about a lost
homeland (mocked these days as passé) wasn’t a story I heard from my
parents, but one I lived myself.
When my parents, my two sisters and I left Havana during the Mariel
Boatlift in 1980, I was eight, old enough to be told that we were
leaving because we weren’t Communists and were religious, and that meant
that our future there was already over. I was also old enough to feel
torn from the world we left behind – torn from our tiny, two-room row
house with no plumbing and from all our family but one uncle who already
lived in Miami.
Gradually, though, it became clear that the US embargo against Cuba was
at best futile and at worst a sham, especially in view of the billions
of dollars that Cuban exiles send to our relatives every year and sales
of US food and medicine to Cuba since 2000. I remember interviewing an
official at the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, who
presented me with evidence that “our side” was winning: a report that
the Cuban Navy had sunk two small boats because the government could no
longer afford their upkeep. That this was considered progress in
bringing about change in Cuba was depressing. That was 15 years ago.
But it remains to be seen whether diplomacy can do better. When Kerry
raises the Stars and Stripes in Havana, millions of people around the
world will see it as the final nail on the Cold War’s coffin, but for
many Cubans on both sides of the Florida Straits, it will be mark the
beginning of the true test for the US as well as Cuba: whether the
partnership can make lives of ordinary Cubans better through a true
expansion of personal and civic freedoms and opportunity, and above all
the right to choose their own destiny.
Source: Cuba’s civil rights record must improve for its renewed US ties
to bear fruit | Damarys Ocaña Perez | Comment is free | The Guardian –