By Monica Baro Sanchez (El Toque)
HAVANA TIMES – There are many people outside of Cuba rejoicing at the news that US president Donald Trump will lift the waiver on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, place travel restrictions on US citizens for non-family related reasons and reduce remittances to the island.
They say they are so interested in profound changes being made in Cuba, so interested in Cuban citizens finally having their basic rights and freedoms recognized, so interested in Cuba becoming a democratic and just republic. They should come to live in Cuba and defend these sublime interests from here.
I don’t agree with most of the property expropiations that happened post-1959. I understand that compensation for many naturalized Cuban-Americans and Cuban descendants born in the US for all the damages the Revolution caused them would be fair; but damages that were the result of political extremism, not the implementation of social policies.
It bothers me that today militarymen and Party leaders live in many of the homes seized in the ‘60s, who like the pigs in British writer’s George Orwell’s prophetic work “Animal Farm”, have gone to live a comfortable life in the human’s house and have become the new ruling class, while the rest of the farm animals, who formed part of the rebellion against the humans, face hardship.
I’m aware of the pain that many Cubans or Cuban-Americans who mostly live in the US still feel, just like many Cubans who live in Cuba are still hurting.
Those who lost their properties aren’t the only victims of the mistakes, arbitrary measures, injustice, that have taken place here in the past 60 years. And with their properties, their jobs, their rights. People are also hurting after having lost relatives to the sea or jungle, in attempts to reach the US, or in a war in a foreign country, or in many other dark moments in our history.
However, an eye for an eye doesn’t work. Less so when the real motive isn’t to recover any damages but to take advantage of this existing damage, of people’s pain, of their very understandable bitterness, for purposes that aren’t at all noble.
Donald Trump’s administration isn’t interested in compensating US citizens of Cuban origin who suffered expropriations in the ‘60s, it isn’t interested in serving justice, much less in helping Cubans on the island. Trump is a businessman above all else, and he is looking to protect his own interests.
The speech that John Bolton, US National Security Advisor, gave to announce the sanctions against Cuba (and others against Venezuela and Nicaragua) took place in Miami, on April 17th, within the context of the 58th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion. The audience was mostly made up of Cuban-Americans who took part in this invasion. According to Bolton, these new measures were taken in order to “honor their bravery” and to stand up to “the demons of socialism and communism in this hemisphere.”
“You can’t get rid of cancer without first suffering,” a 78-year-old retired banker said, who was one of the invaders and quoted in the Washington Post; which associated the Trump administration’s language with the language used over thirty years ago, during the Cold War.
But, in fact, this policy isn’t even directed at the Cuban government. People living in Cuba are the target because they are the foundation of this system, and the hope of the policy is that the system will collapse if they attack its foundations. On May 2nd, the waiver on Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act (Freedom Act) will be lifted, which has been suspended for over 22 years by different US presidents.
It won’t benefit those who suffered expropiations without also affecting the interests of European companies (hotel chains for example) who have invested in confiscated property, the already fragile and heavily indebted Cuban economy, and the 11 million Cubans who live on the island.
The European Union (EU) soon leaped into action. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Cecilia Malmstrom, European Commissioner for Trade, warned in a joint statement that “the EU would assess every opportunity it has to protect its legitimate rights, including its rights at the WTO and the use of the EU’s Blockade Stature.”
And: they added: “Cited Statute prohibits the execution of US court rulings relating to Title III of the Helms-Burton Act within the EU and allows EU companies that are being sued in the US to recover, in EU courts, any damages suffered as a result of legal proceedings that begin in the US.”
However, regardless of how this conflict plays out between Europe and the US, news about the lawsuits that will begin once Title III of the Helms-Burton Act kicks in also serves to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability, chasing away potential foreign investors. On April 17th, Bolton made it clear that these measures were just the beginning.
With remittances being restricted to 1,000 USD per trimester, and travel restrictions on US citizens who aren’t visiting the island for family-related purposes, they are not only attacking the country’s hard currency revenue.
While Cuban emigres don’t normally send their relatives living in Cuba more than 1,000 USD every three months, it is normal for different artists, filmmakers, journalists, activists, who work independently of the State, as well as private entrepreneus, to bring funds from the US to develop their projects or investments in the form of remittances. When it comes down to it, empowering civil society is one of the most important things the US government is attacking.
With this series of measures, in a context of economic crisis kicking in, when basic foodstuffs are in greater shortage every day, when Cubans “have to always be ready for the worse”, according to the Cuban Communist Party’s First Secretary’s recent speech, it is clear that the US is returning to its old strategy which the blockade has embodied since the early ‘60s.
Putting pressure on the Cuban people to trigger the uprising against the government they’ve been waiting for so long is a strategy which has proven itself to be ineffective for over half a century. It has been of better use to the Cuban government which has used it as an excuse to curtail personal freedoms, impose censorship and mask unresolved social problems. It hasn’t served for the Cuban people to free themselves of its yoke.
If former US president Barack Obama chose to change this out-dated strategy when he was in office, it wasn’t because he was the cool guy who Cubans and socialist utopias liked, but rather because he was a bit more intelligent and astute. Obama was also interested in change for Cuba, of course. However, he probably didn’t care if it was a socialist flag or Harry Potter’s wizarding school’s own, as long as it became a democracy.
Obama full well knew that repression would only lead to more repression, that it was better to give Cuba reasons to admire the US instead of hating it. He believed that a dialogue and bringing both societies together, in a melting pot of cultures and world visions, would generate more changes than entrenchments.
And, as the US representative, he knew how to win over the admiration of many Cubans during his official visit to the island. Cubans in Havana at the time, or who were following the news, could see how popular he was among those present and how uneasy he made Raul Castro’s government and official media.
It was because he knew how to show the Cuban people respect, it was that simple. Something that other US presidents or the Castro brothers have never showed them. Whether his projection was sincere or false is irrelevant, the fact is that it worked; although the rapprochement between both countries and the thawing process didn’t last very long, unfortunately.
However, maybe the saddest thing about all of this is that there are younger generations of Cubans, who aren’t the 80-something year olds who invaded the island in 1961, who back Trump’s strategy relating to Cuba and are reproducing a line of thinking, a discourse, which effectively dates back to the Cold War.
It makes perfect sense that Trump doesn’t care about the Cuban people. Trump has never presented himself as a humanist, on the contrary. However, what doesn’t make sense, or is at least incoherent, is that someone who claims to care about the civil and political rights that were usurped by the Castros, at the same time supports the economic pressure that Trump wants to impose. Since when does hunger trump censorship?
It’s very easy to pitch a people against a government, as if the island were a Roman Colisseum, and its citizens are gladiators or animals, when you don’t have to be in the middle of that fight but on the sidelines, urging them on with blows and shouting, your mouth full with a hamburger.
It’s easy, but more than anything else, it’s cowardly. Anyone who isn’t ready to experience this pressure firsthand, which is essentially poverty, hunger, the anxiety of not having anything to feed your children, the violence that poverty triggers, or isn’t willing to go out to Revolution Square holding a protest placard, doesn’t have the moral authority to defend those who are putting pressure on others.
Nobody has the right to demand of others what they themselves can’t do. But, not even the people who can put up with the pressure, or repression, and do go out to protest in public spaces, have the right to demand that others do the same, or to judge those who don’t, because they aren’t above anyone else just because they do it. Admirable yes, superior no.
Not even Cubans here should be judging those who decided to leave, and those who left shouldn’t be judging the Cubans who remain in Cuba and don’t rebel, or don’t rebel in the way they think they should be.
Somebody who defends the US government’s repressive measures against the Cuban people isn’t any different from the Cuban leader who asks these same people to make sacrifices he himself won’t. Both stances, albeit contrary to each other, seek the same thing: dominance.
One power isn’t any better than the other, none of their representatives are really concerned about social wellbeing, instead they are just looking out to protect their own interests: Donald Trump, his reelection; and the Cuban Communist Party elite, to be immortal.
On both sides of this tug of war, the Cuban people are the ones who suffer, the most vulnerable link in this chain because neither the Communist leaders, or Donald Trump, or followers of his repressive measures living abroad, are going to go hungry or risk their lives if a rebellion breaks out. They are all going to end up morbidly watching how the poor, those who can’t leave for anywhere else, kill each other, or attack each other, until something changes (nobody knows what exactly though mind you).
Who is going to compensate the victims of this long-awaited violence; whose lives are worth more than all the properties that were expropriated in Cuba? What kind of country will we become after something like this? Will this be a democratic, just and humanitarian republic? Democratic, just and humanitarian for who? Who is going to end up with the country?
It’s also very likely that the island never becomes the battleground they hope it will either. Cuban journalist Yoani Sanchez, director of independent newspaper 14ymedio has voiced her skepticism on her news program “Ventana 14”, in relation to a popular uprising. In her eyes, these economic restrictions will only drive emigration. At least, this is the historic lesson of the Special Period in the ‘90s, and it has become a very strong movement again after the immigration reform of 2013. If there’s anything Cubans know how to do in Cuba, it’s inventing, resolving and surviving.
That there are people coming to blows in stores over a packet of chicken isn’t an indicator of the Cuban people being willing to take to the streets and protest just because we have cellphones, mobile data and a Facebook account in 2019 (unlike in the ‘90s). Nobody knows for sure what a protest in Cuba could lead to. Maybe protest isn’t the way to create change, or at least not the kind of protest that the White House envisages. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I hope, with all my heart, that Cuba becomes a just and democratic republic. Of course, one day we will have to repair the damage done, forgive, heal, reconcile, tell stories, discover the truth about so many things, rebuild.
But, we will have to do as free and conscious women and men, in a context of peace and security, because it is something we have decided and not because we are being pressured from somewhere else, not because they want to turn us into hungry beasts that fight amongst ourselves in order to survive.
I believe that Cuba can be a lot better than what people who don’t care about the Cuban people’s wellbeing want Cuba to be. If governments don’t respect us, we can at least respect each other, right?