October will mark the 56th year of U.S. sanctioned embargoes against the island nation of Cuban with no solid outcome except a failed political strategy to overthrow a dictator.
Recent moves to lift those sanctions have resulted in discussions between the cold war-era enemies who now seek to normalized relations and have moved so far as to announce the opening of mutual embassies. This week the Cuban flag started flying over the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C.. And the American flag will start flying over the United States Embassy in Havana.
The process of opening diplomatic relations dragged on until Cuba was removed from its list of state sponsors of terrorism in late May and then bogged down over issues of U.S. diplomats' access to ordinary Cubans.
This week will signify a very historic moment. While there will continue to be conflicts and disagreements – several still exist – the way you treat the conflicts has completely changed by the opening of the embassies. Trust and respect are still a goal - and we are not there yet - but that can only start by open dialog.
There are several reasons why Americans and ex-pat Cubans should welcome the normalization. As a business strategy, U.S. companies, including small business interests, have much to gain in exporting, tourism and general good sales. But although we now have diplomatic relations it does not mean that the trade embargo will be lifted anytime soon. Politically speaking, I cannot see it happening for several years to come. And while I believe this is a good start, it does not mean that Cuba is free or that things are normal for their citizens. Far from it.
Culturally, the Cuban experience has always had a fixation with American culture and Americans who have traveled to Cuba always talk about the vibrancy of the Cuban culture not to mention the food, rum, cigars, old American cars, music and salsa (dancing) we so admire. And especially the hard working people of Cuba whom have been deprived of liberties and freedoms for so long. Many have been political prisoners just for their thoughts and for trying to help others. Many have long suffered at the hands of the Castro regime. They have gotten by with their ingenuity, resourcefulness and passion for life.
From a political perspective it would make sense at this time to end the embargo as millennials are far removed the purpose behind the original sanctions. The new generation of Americans and Cubans do not see each other as enemies, nor do they have a reason to have such a viewpoint. If ever there was a plan to end communism on the island it would be through trade, capitalism and generations removed from the infamous missile crisis.
But although we now have diplomatic relations it does not mean that the trade embargo will be lifted anytime soon. From a purely political standpoint, I cannot see it happening for several years to come. But diplomatic relations does open the doors for further reforms in my opinion.
Of course the argument for some remains that by normalizing relations we (the U.S.) are merely giving in to a ruthless dictatorship who has oppressed his people for so many years. And his involvement starting or participating in other areas of conflict throughout the world is well documented. There is a lot of truth in that too. We could have and should have gotten much more in our negotiations with them.
My opinion is the revolution is dead in many ways and the youthful past of Castro is gone. What faces Cuba now is a political mix of a grand opportunity combined with political uncertainty as it awaits Castro’s passing. So do we wait for that moment and see what happens next, or do we take an active role in shaping that future?
At a recent briefing from the State Department that I attended, we were informed that when asked what they wanted from the US the list was very much a 1960’s era mentality. In their top 10 never was communication or technology asked for. Agriculture and building supplies were very high on their list. Many things, like the return of Guantanamo Base were nonstarters for us.
As someone who emigrated from Cuba at age six, I along with so many others have a personal stake in the U.S. renewing relations with Cuba. I remember as a little boy in Cuba hiding in the closet as the military drove by during home schooling by our non-communist neighbor for fear of being found. I remember the fear and yet jubilation of my parents as we were processed at the Cuban Refugee Center – today known as The Freedom Tower in Miami. I understand to a lesser degree the suffering by millions of people at the hands of this dictatorship. I am one of the lucky ones who were able to come to a great country like America that welcomed us and gave us the opportunity to pursue happiness and self-worth. I am very proud to be an American-Cuban.
The humanitarian aspect of removing the embargo means families can now be reunited and the Cuban people’s future will begin to grow brighter. Progress towards humanitarian policies and treatment of the Cuban people at the hands of their own government is a noble and worthy goal that hopefully can start with our new open dialogue, which is reminiscent of an old Cuban proverb, “When the Sun Rises, It Rises for Everyone.”
Mario A. Guerra is the former Mayor of Downey and President of Independent Cities. He is the current Treasurer of the California Republican Party. He can be reached at www.Marioaguerra.com