Ending this embargo would not put the ball in America’s court. However, for the Cuban people, it is crucial.
Everyone always remembers the exact place where they received hair-raising news, such as an attack on their nation, triumph or defeat in a war or revolution, a terrorist act or the naming of a new pope.
I had recently arrived in Uruguay, when my cellphone rang. The voice of one of my dear friends, a purebred journalist, was violently yelling at me without even saying hello. “Turn on the television; they are lifting the embargo against Cuba. Obama is talking!”
A chill ran through my body, a shock that I have rarely felt, wanting to both laugh and cry in disbelief and bewilderment. I put on the television and there was Barack Obama announcing the restoration of relations and the future lifting of the embargo.
I left Cuba when I was 9 years old, in March of 1960, with my mother. My father had left two days before we all met in Miami in order to divide ourselves. My parents and I went to Argentina, my brothers went to high schools in the U.S. Ever since then my place was in Argentina; my lost paradise was Cuba.
My first return to the island was in the 1984, an impossible dream that was made a reality thanks to many coincidences. I returned to my homeland and birthplace after 24 years of exile. Many more years have passed since then, and I swear that no living emotion could compare with that one. I later took two more trips to Cuba, one 12 years after the first and the last three years ago. Ever since that first trip, I was convinced that the embargo or the block functioned only as an excuse, because in Cuba, for those that had money and diplomatic passports or positions in the government, there were the “diplotiendas” (store for diplomats) of privilege and for the people, just rations.
Over the years, we saw changes in the Cuban convertible peso (or CUC), from legal to illegal dollar and vice versa, small business venture alternately permitted or prohibited at a whim according to government control. Since that first trip, however, there has always been access to certain branded products, all triangulated via Mexico, Canada or Europe at crazy prices for the common Cuban and on sale for the wealthy, diplomats, senior government officials or the happy owners of foreign currency. This means that the block was a complete sham. But staying intact in the revolutionary discourse and in the hearts of every indoctrinated Cuban: the embargo was the predatory monster responsible for Cuba’s empty pockets.
On each trip, I could feel what had truly been achieved by imposing the isolation and lack of information.
In those years, the highest ambition for a family was to have a pair of blue jeans and a pair of shoes for each member of their family, not included in their rationing notebook.
Concepts such as freedom to choose a career, job and housing in those years were, for the Cubans, like talking about Mars. In 1996, at the end of the “special period,” Cuba was still much more worse than it was in 1984, and they continued ignoring the whole world, repeating in schools their old revolutionary slogans and giving thanks to Fidel for being the valiant David before Goliath.
Ever since then, I prayed that the United States would lift the embargo, at whatever price. Nothing could have been more disadvantageous than the hatred against “Yankee Imperialism” absorbed generation after generation.
The more I analyzed my travels to Cuba, the more I was convinced of unfixable damage that the blockade or embargo (I know that these aren’t the same, but neither was the actual practice) caused in the hearts of the people. Nothing can unite a people more than a common enemy.
The blockade is and has been a huge lie that must be exposed at the right time. Perhaps the shipments and money shipments that saved thousands of families in Cuba from famine aren’t working? And is this bad? Or perhaps we would have preferred, after strictly defending the blockade, that the Cuban islanders finished eating off of the roots of trees as in China?
Ending this embargo, although it would only be one-sided, would not put the ball in America’s court. However, for the Cuban people it is crucial. Proving that the United Sates is ready for any change for little or not benefit, and then proceeding to move the pieces, is a start. Trying to begin erasing the hatred would take generations, but we need to start one day.
We agreed that Cuba lives under a totalitarian regime, unjust and inefficient, and that we want to better the situation of the people. Is this not sufficient for us to unite in exile?
“A piece has been moved, which has started the game,” someone from Cuba told me by phone. “I am skeptical,” he added, “but maybe something will change and maybe it’s more than we had 10 days ago.”
I do not know how to ask the Cuban diasporas to permit themselves to feel or to pass on a little bit of hope.
About this publication