by Osmel Ramirez Alvarez (photos: Carlos Vilá)
HAVANA TIMES — Esteemed Barack Obama: This letter was written by a run-of-the-mill Cuban, one who is neither a dissident nor has any ties to government politics. What I’ve written comes from the heart and knows none of the hypocritical opportunism that characterizes politics many a time. It is made of pure sincerity.
Your imminent visit to our country this coming March has been announced. This is, without a doubt, a historical event we must celebrate. Our countries are far too close to be enemies, and I am not referring to geography only.
Cubans of goodwill, regardless of their political affiliations, are overjoyed at the courageous step you took on opening up an opportunity for exchange and the reestablishment of relations between our countries. Our people suffer greatly the daily ups and downs of the system and the blockade is an additional burden on us.
We are not unaware of the impact that the interests of your government and its wealthiest citizens have had. The United States is an economic and military power and, beyond the democratic and humanist values it defends, those interests have a major say. The situation must be grasped this way, without kicking up any pointless fusses, and these interests must be borne in mind when negotiating, without undermining essential principles.
Soon, you will set foot in Havana and Raul Castro will welcome you with the cordiality that characterizes Cuban diplomacy. You will visit numerous places as part of a tight agenda and will be dazzled, like other visitors before you, by the marvelous things showcased for you.
The Latin American School of Medicine, the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, the restored areas of the old town (thanks to Eusebio Leal’s stellar company), the Mariel Special Development Zone and the occasional elementary school crammed with happy, smiling children.
If you let your guard down, you may leave Cuba wishing to implement, in your country, a system as marvelous as ours. I kid, of course, but it is anything but outrageous to write this, as more than one audacious politician has been so dazzled. The official reception at the Revolution Palace will be majestic, with ornamental plants and polychromatic marble.
Behind the walls of this beautiful palace and the immense display case designed for visitors, this people suffer and demand a better future.
You, in your good faith, can apply pressure within your country to have Congress dismantle the blockade, and this would be of great help. But the most powerful blockade our people endure is here and those who can dismantle it are your future hosts.
I am referring to the excessively planned, state centralized, bureaucratic and dysfunctional system we have. I write only of its economic aspects, and its political dimension is perhaps worse: completely anti-democratic, with indirect elections that do not reflect the people’s will, a system that does not accept plurality and criminalizes the desire to steer the country in a non-official direction.
When Raul tells you “we have the right to choose the social model we want,” he is referring to them, the government, not the people. Similarly, when they talk to you of “our particular way of understanding human rights and democracy,” this is merely euphemistic. In truth, what they mean to say is that they tolerate no criticism of the model that will allow them to govern for as long as they want to and in the manner they want to.
They will accept discussing all of these thorny issues, but they will do so out of cordiality or in the manner of someone who fulfills an unavoidable and tedious itinerary. They have no real interest in improving our system or hearing, in a sincere spirit of self-criticism and self-improvement, the positive experiences offered by a different model. They aren’t interested in true democracy, only a caricature of democracy.
They want the wellbeing of Cubans, but only as the miraculous result of its failed project. They want relations and trade between the two countries, but not as an individual and collective process, only through their institutions and State companies. From this friendly initiative, they seek only a small gulp of air that will allow them to reach their twilight years with slightly less disastrous results.
Don’t let these lines suggest to you that I hate the revolution or its leaders. Never! I would never harbor such hatred, not even had I been victimized by their extreme policies. Hatred does not neutralize hatred, nor does violence destroy violence.
The revolution has done good things and has given our country valuable strengths, placing us at an advantage in terms of reaching the development we aspire to as a nation. Only the entrenchment of a political class that grew accustomed to absolute power and tries to legitimate it with an ideology that is as romantic as it is unviable stands in our way, more so than the blockade!
On behalf of our people, who suffer and lack a voice, I ask that you foster official relations, undermine the blockade and facilitate the building of bridges, and that you do not forget to ask, in exchange, the only just thing one can demand: a referendum.
It isn’t right for the United States to impose conditions on Cuba in exchange for lifting a blockade that’s by nature unjust. But, if the Cuban government claims to speak on behalf of everyone and regards its political model as the holy grail of democracy, then, as a minimum, they must at least hold a plebiscite and have the people confirm their claims.
If the bill presented to Congress to lift the blockade demands a regime change in Cuba in exchange, it would be opprobrious and criticized by the entire world. If, instead, it demanded a nationwide referendum where the Cuban people (including émigrés) is consulted regarding the continuation of the current regime or a change towards democracy, then it would be beneficial to all.
What’s more, it would unmask the real intentions of Cuban leaders in the event they did not accept this. It’s time to help our people take the reins of its sovereignty and impel change in Cuba without resentment, vendettas or unbridled passions that cause evils.
The revolution prepared us for prosperity, but it has long been the main obstacle on our way to it.
Help our people reach such prosperity, not only lifting the US blockade but also making it conditional on the lifting of the internal blockade, which stifles us even more violently.
Neither the United States nor Cubans ought to turn our backs on the Cuban government. This would be foolish. They are the ones in charge, the entire world recognizes them and this is a fact.
We only demand that we be consulted before they speak on our behalf.
Friendly greetings from a Cuban concerned for his homeland, who dares express his opinions to try and find a cure for these painful things.
I look forward to your visit.