Saturday, August 15, 2015
John Kerry gave an excellent speech to re-open the US Embassy in Cuba, showing an empathy long overdue toward the people of this island nation, reference to Jose Marti, and even re-capping his speech in Spanish. However, I imagine most Cubans see this as a mixed blessing. They are glad to see some kind of accord reached in this long-running feud, but as Kerry noted more than 80 per cent of Cubans have been born after the revolution, so in that sense they are Castro's children.
For Cuban-Americans, especially those who seek political office, this is a bitter pill they refuse to swallow. Marco Rubio was busy denouncing the event as it was taking place, with his comments scrolling across the bottom ticker of the CNN screen, as Fox covered the event simultaneously. Marco is too young to remember the American flag being taken down in 1961. He is the son of emigrees who fled Cuba in the wake of the revolution.
Of course, what he and other conservatives fail to note is that Batiste's regime was the principal reason for that revolution, and that it was the US that refused to recognize the new government in Havana, and that the awful Bay of Pigs incident orchestrated under the Kennedy administration turned Cuba irrevocably toward the Soviet Union. This is what led to those 13 days in October, when the whole world stood on the edge of a nuclear war.
A couple films stand out from that era. This first is a documentary entitled Cuban Story, narrated by Errol Flynn, which captured the moment the Revolution swept into Havana in 1959. The second is a Soviet film made by Mikhail Kalatozov in 1964, entitled Soy Cuba, which tells the story of Cuba through a variety of characters in visually stunning black and white.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, many expected the Castro government to collapse as well, but with extensive ties throughout Latin America and renewed trade relations with European countries and Canada, Cuba moved forward, much to the chagrin of the United States. There was a golden opportunity for rapprochement in 1995, but the US Congress, in the hands of the Republicans, passed the notorious Helms-Burton Act in 1996, pulling an iron curtain down between the two nations. Clinton, who signed that legislation, softened the policy in 1998 after Pope John Paul II visited the country, but Republicans were non-plussed and strengthened those economic sanctions again when Bush became President in 2001.
That's where we've stood for the past 15 years until yesterday. What began as a handshake between Obama and Raul Castro at the 2014 World Cup in South Africa, has grown into a diplomatic thaw that has seen an ease in travel restrictions and other policies that the President can address himself, including the re-opening of the embassy to renew formal relations. The only hitch is that Congress has the right to approve the ambassador, and so Jeffrey DeLaurentis will most likely remain the Charge d'Affaires at the US Embassy throughout Obama's term.
Through it all, the Vatican has acted as a facilitator, with Pope Francis taking a major role the past year. He will be visiting both Cuba and the United States in September, as Pope John Paul II did in 1998, bringing this diplomatic accord full circle.
One can only hope that this gives American conservatives time to reconsider their position on Cuba. After all, Fidel Castro is 89, and his brother Raul, the current President, is 84, which means their time is almost over. What happens to Cuba afterward remains to be seen, but rapprochement is obviously the best course, not continued harsh sanctions as Marco Rubio and other Republican presidential candidates have vowed should anyone of them be elected.
After all, we renewed diplomatic and economic ties with Vietnam 20 years ago, as John Kerry noted in his speech. Vietnam is still a single-party communist state, yet Republican law makers would lead us to believe that we can't have relations with Cuba until the country renounces its communism.
My guess is that Republicans will allow this issue to drift into the background of the presidential campaign, as most Americans favor rapprochement. Travel to Cuba has increased 35 per cent since restrictions were lifted this past Spring, and most likely will continue to increase as Americans check out their close neighbor to the South, and find it isn't a seething cauldron of anti-American sentiments. In fact, you can even see the infamous missiles at the military exhibit at Fortress Morro Cabana in Havana.