My thoughts on the world around me

What Obama’s Cuba Policy Ought to Be

In the ebb and flow of politics, change is the ultimate catalyst for achieving better government. As in the market, where demand for an old and unattractive product wanes, an unsuccessful political leader or policy, too, can lose favor. It is only a question of time before people realize that while one path may lead to stagnation, there is another that leads to possibility. When that time comes, the superior concept rises to the top.

In the 50 years since Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States has primarily advanced protectionist policies. On February 7, 1962, following the expropriation of numerous U.S.-owned properties in Cuba, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order imposing a trade embargo on Castro’s government. In 1963, following the Cuban Missile Crisis, the first of many travel restrictions went into effect. Most recently, the Helms-Burton Act was enacted in 1996 to penalize foreign companies that do business in Cuba by preventing them from doing business in the U.S.

What effects have these measures had?

The Cuban people live in poverty. They have little or no access to our medicines, products and other essential items. They are silenced by a repressive government that long ago erased their freedom of expression. And yet, while Cubans feel disdain for their leaders, they are equally scornful of the U.S. The trade embargo has crippled their economic opportunities, and the travel ban has kept families apart for decades.

After 50 years and 10 U.S. presidents, isn’t it time for the U.S. to rethink its position? It may help to look at a successful model.

In technology, the Internet is a powerful tool because it is open to everyone. Its emphasis on collaboration and integration allows people from all over the world to freely exchange ideas and solve complex issues.  The Internet’s openness is a strategy that breaks down barriers, physical or not, and empowers the individual who wields its awesome power.

When applied to Cuba, the key to reforming the communist nation is to bombard it with access and information. The U.S. must allow U.S. citizens to travel into Cuba and ignite the flow of commerce. It ought to lift the trade embargo, so that Americans may benefit from the sugar and tobacco industries, and Cubans may have access to medicine, Hollywood, and apple pie. The U.S. also needs to assign a special envoy to Cuba who will oversee this transformation and assure the Cuban people that the U.S. views its neighbor’s success as a priority.

But as with the Internet, these political measures require collaboration. Once the U.S. changes its policies, it will be up to the Cuban people to act. We will provide the tools, but they will have to take the courageous steps toward democracy and capitalism. Will Cubans prefer a repressive government, or one that denies them nothing? Will they side with the local government that rations what little food they have, or follow the global economy that rewards innovation and hard work? Only they can decide that.

Communism erected walls throughout the island and in the people’s minds. We should tear them down as we once did in Berlin. If the U.S. infuses the island with hope, then there is the possibility that the inhabitants will once again dream of something larger than themselves.

After 50 years of stagnation, a different path seems very attractive.


January 27, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Cuba, Economics, Foreign Policy, International Trade, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Ex-Gitmo Detainee Joins al-Qaeda in Yemen

Said Ali Al-Shihri, a Saudi man who spent six years in the Guantanamo Bay prison, is now the No. 2 of the Yemen branch of al-Qaeda. Following President Barack Obama’s executive order to close down the Cuban prison within a year, this news only underscores the complexity of the issue.

Several experts have said that the detainees fall into three categories:

1. Those who can be tried in a U.S. court;

2. Those who can be returned to their home country, or a third country, and be tried there; and

3. Some detainees who cannot be tried in the U.S. or returned to their home or third country (the most difficult category)

Given the difficulty in resolving this issue, it’s no surprise that the Democrats and Republicans have conflicting views on yesterday’s executive order.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who heads the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence, said that Guantanamo prison should still be closed in spite of today’s report:

What it tells me is that President Obama has to proceed extremely carefully. But there is really no justification and there was no justification for disappearing people in a place that was located offshore of America so it was outside the reach of U.S. law[.]

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, criticized the executive order as it was “very short on specifics.” He went on to say that former Guantanamo detainees are “back on the battlefield. They are attacking American troops.”

Closing the prison is symbolic and essential to our foreign policy objectives. The prison had become a propaganda tool for insurgents throughout the Middle East. Obama also seems to be keenly aware that it will not be easy to adjudicate each and every one of these cases. Some prisoners are very dangerous, but the extent of the evidence against them is razor thin.

Giving himself a year to handle this issue was a prudent move. Obama will have to proceed cautiously, and be aware that what is at stake is allowing more people like Al-Shihri to take to the battlefield against American soldiers.

That would be an unforgivable mistake.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, Law, Obama's First 100 Days, Politics, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Do You Remember, Cuba? (Translation from original “Te Acuerdas, Cuba?”)

My beloved Cuba, do you remember?

I was wearing my favorite dress, the red one. Mom always said the color accentuated my golden skin.

I walked atop El Malecón, from Old Havana to the Vedado district. Holding my father’s hand, I waived to the fisherman.

The ocean crashed violently against the wall, the spray refreshing you. You felt safe.

Do you remember?

We went to Santiago de Cuba. My God, was it hot. Look over there, Dad said.

On the street, a dark woman moved her body. Is she moving her feet and hips because the floor is hot, I asked.

Whenever you’re troubled, Mom said, the only remedy is to dance. I discovered son that day.

There were four seated men accompanying the dark woman.

They were playing el tres, the violin, the maracas, and the instrument that would fill you with joy and sadness with each cry, the trumpet.

Do you remember?

We came upon Santa Clara and strolled through Leoncio Vidal Park. Here’s where we met, my parents said.

I kissed the Boy of the Shoe statue, and I quickly ran with embarrassment. He has been a witness to love, hasn’t he?

Do you remember?

We finally reached Pinar del Río. Walking through the tobacco plantation, I let my hands touch the leaves. Don’t be sad, I said to them. I will soon feel you again in Daddy’s breath.

Don’t forget what you’ve seen, Mom said. We’ll have to leave for a long time, she added, and our memories are fragile.

A storm descended from the Sierra Maestra mountains. Rather than provide water so as to give life to your flowers, the lightening has frightened and the winds have slowly eroded your beauty.

It’s been fifty years since I’ve seen you. And I have always been conscious of what Mom said that day.

I have not forgotten you.

My beloved Cuba, do you remember me?

I ask that you don’t forget me. Hold on a little longer, as I will be back soon.

I will return to the royal palms’ embrace. I will breathe once more.

January 3, 2009 Posted by | Art, Poetry | , , , , | Leave a comment

Te Acuerdas, Cuba?

Mi querida Cuba, te acuerdas?

Yo tenia puesto mi vestido preferido, el rojo. Mamá decía que el color hacia resaltar mi piel dorada.

Caminé sobre El Malecón, de la Habana Vieja hasta Vedado. Agarrada de la mano de papá, salude al pescador.

El mar chocaba violentamente contra la pared, la espuma refrescándote. Te sentías protegida.

Te acuerdas?

Fuimos a Santiago de Cuba. Ay, que calor. Mira allá, me dijo papá.

Una morena se movía en la calle. Mueve los pies y las caderas porque el piso está caliente, pregunté yo.

Cuando estés disgustada, dijo mamá, el único remedio es bailar. Ese día descubrí el son.

Habían cuatro hombres sentados que acompañaban a esa morena.

Tocaban el tres, el violín, las maracas, y el instrumento que con cada llanto llenaba tu alma de alegría y tristeza, la trompeta.

Te acuerdas?

Paseamos por Santa Clara y le dimos vuelta al parque Leoncio Vidal. Aquí nos conocimos, dijeron mis padres.

Besé al Niño de la Bota, y rápido corrí de la vergüenza. El ha sido testigo del amor, no es cierto?

Te acuerdas?

Terminamos en Pinar del Río. Caminando por la plantación de tabaco, dejé que mis manos sintieran las aojas. No se pongan tristes, les dije. Pronto los sentiré de nuevo en el aliento de papá.

No te olvides de lo que has visto, dijo mamá. Nos tendremos que ir por mucho tiempo, ella agregó, y la memoria es frágil.

Bajó una tormenta de la Sierra Maestra. En vez de brindarte agua para darle vida a las flores, los relámpagos han asustado y los vientos han ido destruyendo tu belleza.

Han sido cincuenta años desde que te vi. Y siempre he estado consciente de lo que me dijo mamá.

No te he olvidado.

Mi querida Cuba, te acuerdas de mi?

Te pido que no me olvides. Aguanta un poco mas, pues yo volveré pronto.

Volveré para que me abracen las palmas reales. Volveré a respirar.

January 2, 2009 Posted by | Art, Español, Poetry, Politics | , , , , , | 3 Comments