My feelings are ambiguous today. It’s an exciting day, because anything that puts Cuba on our collective mind in the U.S. is a good day. I’m really, really happy—I can’t even imagine the joy that Alan Gross’s family feels. I grew up with children whose fathers were in prison for years upon years. Alan Gross and his family—for them, it’s a day to celebrate.
What I’m conflicted about is that I don’t see a request on our government’s part for the restrictions to be lifted by the Cuban government. The Cuban government has been oppressing Cuban people. Italians and Canadians can go there and have all the fun they want. And they can leave and their new Cuban friends can’t go with them. The Cubans cannot leave. It’s an ugly secret. It’s an untalked-about secret. It hasn’t been the U.S. oppressing the Cuban people!
The embargo was badly conceived. Everyone’s in agreement on that. It’s a policy that has not helped the Cuban people. They live like kings in the Cuban government. They always have. And the Cuban people live like cattle. People who go there say, “They’re so wonderful and joyful in spite of their poverty!” But they don’t need to be poor, they’re some of the brightest people on earth, as you can see by their achievements in medicine and the arts. The government wants to keep the status quo. It’d be wonderful for us to relieve the status quo. There has to be a give-and-take. Let them vote! How about that! Don’t just have a monarchy until the old men die, and the people they’re grooming to follow them follow them. It’s an archaic way of governing a people. This news is a move by our president to establish a legacy of opening relations. In and of itself, it’s no big deal, unless what you get in return is something really beautiful and something really humanistic. Unless what you get in return is an election.
Alan Gross did nothing wrong, so that was a horror of justice that he was in prison for five years. But instead of beginning from a position of strength, what we do is say, “Will you please return him and we give you criminals—Cuban spies guilty of killing Americans?” We’re leading with weakness. It’s a policy of appeasement instead of being a beacon of strength.
I see the celebration, I get the excitement, and I’m happy that Cuba’s in the news. It brings about dialogue. That’s a wonderful day in the relations between these countries. I would love to see Cuba someday. But I don’t want to walk the streets and know the people who I see, except the baseball players and ballet dancers, cannot leave.
Among members of the Cuban-American community, I’ve heard both sides. A lot of young people are not really interested. The people that have a celebratory response to this are not really informed. I hate to be cynical or denigrate those people, but they really don’t know what’s going on in Cuba. The people who have been to Cuba know this is an unfair deal for the Cuban people. It’s great for Obama to have a distraction from all the bad news elsewhere in the world, and it’s wonderful for Alan Gross and his family. It’s not good for the people who live under an oppressive government 90 miles away from the United States. Until Cubans can travel around the world, it won’t be a fair trade.