By Michael Richie*
HAVANA TIMES — The re-opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana in 2015, followed by President Obama’s subsequent visit, promised renewed diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
While travel restrictions were lifted and U.S. tourism to Cuba and diplomatic meetings increased over the period of 2015-2016, the election of President Donald J. Trump (and his indecision about “the deal”) has slowed progress between the neighboring nations to a snail’s pace.
As a Cubaphile and frequent visitor to Havana, this concerns me. So I decided to take the bulls by the horns, figuratively, and write open letters of appeal to both President Trump and President Castro. Those letters follow.
Perhaps they will listen.
An Open Letter to President Raul Castro
Honorable President Castro,
I write this as a U.S. citizen who is a frequent visitor to Cuba, a friend of the wonderful Cuban people, and a fervent admirer of the valiant struggle and resultant victory of the Revolution.
How can one not admire the battles fought by Commandante en Jefe Fidel Castro, yourself, Raul, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos and the countless other patriots to free Cuba from the yoke of Imperialism?
As a result of your efforts, Cuba has retained its sovereign independence for half a century, even under the constraints of the U.S. Embargo.
Under the Castro regime, Cuba has developed one of the finest education systems, free for all, with one of the highest literacy rates in the world.
Medical care in Cuba, again free for all, is second to none, with Cuban doctors being sent to and valued by many foreign countries.
Housing has been provided to all for free, as well.
There can be no denying the successes of Cuba, despite the attendant difficulties.
At the same time, daily life for the Cuban people has become more and more of a struggle— due primarily to the U.S. Embargo.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union came the “special period.” Still, the Cuban people stood strong. But the infrastructure began to decay.
To add insult to injury, the more recent troubles in Venezuela have caused oil shortages and economic difficulty, leading, some say, to a “second special period.”
A ray of hope for the Cuban people appeared in 2015 when then-President Barack Obama reopened the U.S. Embassy in Havana and began to re-establish relations with our neighbor to the South.
While I, as some Cubans, may question Obama’s personal motives for this move, it was the right move to make. The Embargo was finally recognized as a failure, one economically disastrous to the Cuban people.
Some impressive progress has been made, Mr. President. But it has been slow and now, with President Donald Trump in office, it has stalled nearly completely.
And progress on this détente is important to both of our countries and their peoples.
It has been reported, Mr. President, that you have already reached out, through diplomatic circles and through public statement that you are ready and willing to negotiate with President Trump. To date, I have heard no response from Trump. It is said that he is still in the process of “developing” his official position on U.S./Cuba relations.
Time, however, is not on the side of the Cuban people.
I would encourage you, Mr. President, to further reach out to President Trump in an effort to arrange a personal meeting with him. Pick up the phone, call him. Despite his sometimes boisterous persona, I assure you that he is a thoughtful and caring man. I know that he would agree to meet with you, perhaps in Cuba, and that the two of you would find much upon which to agree.
That said, I also encourage you to continue to maintain the patriotic sovereignty of the nation of Cuba. I encourage you to limit U.S. investment and continue to promote entrepreneurship within the Cuban population.
On a personal note, I would also ask that you discourage cruise ship visits to Cuba. Promoters will tell you that they are low impact, high profit. But as one who lives on a small (Key West, Florida) which has been overrun with thousands of tourists daily, I can assure you that they will destroy the daily quality of life in your country, particularly in Habana.
I wish you the best, President Castro, and look forward to the steadily improving lives of the beautiful people of Cuba.
An Open Letter to President Donald J. Trump
Honorable President Trump,
I write this as a U.S. citizen who was a Trump supporter from the day you came down that golden escalator in Trump Tower. I contributed to your campaign and proudly wore my Make America Great Again cap everywhere.
I am also proud to say that you have accomplished more in your first month in office to achieve your goals than any president in U.S. history.
That said, there remains the outstanding issue of U.S./Cuba relations.
You have stated publicly that you are still “developing” your position on this matter.
But, Mr. President, this is an area of critical concern for many in the U.S. and Cuba. Time is crucial for the Cuban people, now beginning to suffer under what could be a “second special period,” due to the near-failure of the Venezuelan economy.
The Cuban government and people have survived and developed a very special and very workable system— with excellent and free medical and educational systems— despite the more than 60-year Embargo, we cannot ask them to endure any longer.
The Cuban people need us, and we need them.
The infrastructure in Havana, for example, has suffered extreme decay. And, because of the international monetary restraints imposed by the Embargo, the Cuban government does not have the equipment necessary to repair anything. While tourist numbers are growing daily, the country is not ready to receive those visitors. Even given the proper equipment, it could take a decade of repair work.
At the same time, with the number of U.S. citizens visiting Cuba, travel to that country is difficult because of the Embargo. Cash is the only currency which works. And many travelers fear that either the U.S. or Cuba could, at any moment, call a halt to relations.
Uncertainty creates fear.
President Trump, I know that you are a caring person. I ask you to extend your care to the Cuban people. They are loving and kind people who are hoping to improve their daily lives with the help of the United States.
At the same time, Cuba is a very patriotic country which wants to maintain its national sovereignty. Which means there will have to be limited U.S. investment. Rather they want to work with the U.S. so that Cuban entrepreneurship can be encouraged.
That also means that personal negotiations between yourself and Cuban President Castro will be necessary.
President Castro has already stated publicly that he is ready and willing to enter into negotiations with you regarding U.S./Cuba relations.
I would hope that such negotiations could begin very soon.
Mr. President, pick up the phone and call President Castro (I don’t think he “tweets”) to arrange a personal meeting, perhaps in Havana.
President Castro is a proud and accomplished leader. But he is also a pragmatic leader. He knows the value of improved relations between the U.S. and Cuba. And I’m sure that the two of you would get along famously!
Mr. President, I wish you the best.
On a personal note, I’ll be in Havana in April and would love to see you and President Castro there for May Day talks.
Make America and Cuba great again!
*Havana Times reader and a frequent traveler to Cuba.