Alan Gross: Castro's prisoner
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    Fabiola Santiago – Sound bites don’t capture maturity of Cuban exiles

    Fabiola Santiago: Sound bites don’t capture maturity of Cuban exiles
    12/18/2014 7:01 PM 12/18/2014 8:50 PM

    Ours is a weary exile community, molded by decades of searing losses and
    dashed hopes.

    In this Miami — “a profoundly American city, a place that reminds us of
    what Cuban people can achieve,” as the president described us — the
    historic change of heart on Cuba is viewed with more nuance than is in
    plain view.

    Ours is a weary exile community, often undermined by the shortcomings of
    journalism thirsty for expedient sound bites and dramatic images out of
    the Versailles café counter, the anointed “hot spot” of ready-made opinion.

    But for every piece of emotional footage, there are hundreds of
    thousands of Cuban-Americans quietly rejoicing, disagreeing and
    experiencing every mixed emotion in between at this landmark moment.

    It’s not a flaw, but a healthy sign of maturity, to hold different and
    wide-ranging opinions on President Barack Obama’s bold move to restore
    full diplomatic relations with the Cuban government after five decades
    of failed isolationist strategies.

    For starters, no one can bestow legitimacy and dignity where there’s
    none. No policy shift from the U.S. president or any other world leader
    toward Cuba can change the facts: The Castro brothers have presided over
    a wicked dictatorship that turns 56 on Jan. 1.

    No spy exchange or “humanitarian release” of an American who shouldn’t
    have been jailed in the first place can erase Cuba’s history of
    human-rights abuses. Nor can a continuation of unsuccessful U.S.
    policies bring back the dead, compensate the grieving — or deliver
    justice and freedom.

    There is warranted pain and outrage in sectors of the Cuban exile
    community at what feels like an undeserved, overnight thaw in U.S.-Cuba
    relations, but which in reality has been in the making for years — and
    secretly, through diplomatic channels, for the past 18 months.

    “I feel that I have been slapped in the face by a president,” said a
    tearful Miriam de la Peña, mother of one of the four Cuban-Americans
    killed after their Brothers to the Rescue aircraft were shot down over
    international waters by Cuban fighter jets in 1996. “I feel that the
    justice system of the United States of America has suffered a big blow.”

    One of the spies released and returned to Cuba this week was serving a
    life sentence after being convicted in court of conspiracy to commit
    murder for his role in those deaths. The victims of this and countless
    other despicable acts of violence by the Cuban regime deserve respect
    and understanding.

    But after five decades of an abundance of anti-Castro rhetoric — and no
    results — re-engagement with Cuba is a welcome development, and there’s
    no “traición,” as some claim, no treason at all, in President Obama’s
    decision to normalize relations with Cuba by reopening embassies in both

    “The President’s words today, on the first day of Hanukkah and eight
    days from Christmas, brought tears to our eyes. We have so much wished
    for peace between Cuba and the U.S.,” Raúl Rodriguez, the Miami
    architect who so lovingly helped restore the Freedom Tower in downtown
    Miami, told me Wednesday.

    Rodríguez and his wife, Ninón, left Cuba as children and their return
    trips to the island starting in 1980 were chronicled in David Rieff’s
    book The Exile.

    They describe their thought process at the news of a diplomatic opening
    this way: “No es fácil” [it’s not easy] is only half of the popular
    Cuban phrase. The other half is, “pero vale la pena! [But it’s
    worthwhile.]” And that is the question. ¿Vale la pena?

    They’re betting that the opening to Cuba is worthwhile.

    Obama’s plan entails increasing remittance limits and allowing Americans
    easier access to travel to Cuba, including for the first time, the use
    on the island of the almighty American credit and debit cards.

    But along with optimism about a “saner” new policy, there’s also an
    intelligent dose of skepticism, even among those who support the
    normalization of relations.

    The president voiced his own misgivings, acknowledging that he was
    “under no illusion that continued barriers to freedom remain for
    ordinary Cubans.”

    Rapprochement strategies by the European Union and Canada, including
    hefty investments in the island, have failed — as miserably as the U.S.
    embargo — to put the island’s ruling class on a road trip to democracy.
    Instead, Cubans have served as cheap labor to wealthy investors while
    the Cuban government (which holds a 51 percent share in those foreign
    enterprises) pockets the profits.

    If anything, the contact with foreigners has served as another exit
    route for disillusioned Cubans, who marry for visas and leave the
    island. Why would increased American tourism and investments result in a
    different result for ordinary Cubans?

    It’s a valid question posed by another thoughtful and respected
    Cuban-American, lawyer Rafael Peñalver.

    “This is an agreement between American economic interests and the Castro
    regime in which the people of Cuba — as in exile — have been left out of
    the picture,” he told me. “It’s a great victory [for the Castros], an
    economic opportunity for a Cuba that was on the ropes because of
    dropping oil prices. This is throwing a lifeline to the regime.”

    He wouldn’t want to see Cuba become “a Vietnam or a China” and witness
    “the dream of a free Cuba compromised.” Who among us does?

    A shake-up of the status quo, however, may have been a necessary route,
    a pragmatic way to move forward.

    This in no way diminishes Cuban exiles’ long and valiant fight for
    principled change, nor does it mean this makes the diaspora a house
    irrevocably divided, as politically expedient as it may be for
    Cuban-American elected officials, left out of Obama’s decision, to fan
    the flames of disgust with the president.

    Republican Sen. Marco Rubio says that Obama’s strategy assures that the
    Castros will remain “a permanent fixture.”

    But isn’t that what the Castros have been through decades of “Cuba sí,
    Castro no” rallies? And through the hard-line Helms-Burton Act, which
    tightened the embargo and imposed a travel ban that forced Cubans in
    Miami to visit family and send remittances through third countries?

    Fifty-six years in power is hardly temporary status.

    “I’m free.” Those were Alan Gross’ first words after the Cuban
    government released the American contractor, jailed for five years for
    bringing communications equipment to the small Jewish community on the

    It was as if Gross needed to say the words to believe it.

    Cubans know they aren’t free — and to ensure none of us forgets it, the
    aging Raúl Castro delivered news of re-established relations with the
    United States wearing not the suit he reserves for diplomacy, but his
    military uniform.

    I wouldn’t expect any less demagoguery from the Castros, and more can be
    anticipated, as has been the case when there have been small signs that
    an opening is fostering a new day in Cuba.

    But if there’s a shred of hope that engagement brings to the Cuban
    people greater freedom and prosperity, sí, vale la pena.

    Source: Fabiola Santiago: Sound bites don’t capture maturity of Cuban
    exiles | The Miami Herald –