By Keya Guimarães
HAVANA TIMES — Six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Hollywood responded with Night of the Living Dead, an instant American cinema sensation. Record audiences packed dark theaters to exorcise their fear of a Communist invasion through a Zombie apocalypse. Five decades later, many in the US Congress are still haunted by a Cold War clone in fatigues, ready to infect our politics and violate our society.
Yet as any exorcist will tell you, engagement, not containment, is the only way to get the ghost out. President Obama’s recent policies to normalize relations with Cuba are only a first step. Let’s bypass Congressional stagnation in lifting the embargo with flagship cultural diplomacy programming. Let’s show what’s possible so that the political architecture of Cuba’s next revolution won’t crumble like Havana’s fading façades, and with it, the promise of cultural and economic renewal.
Leadership from the State Department can build on rapprochement and produce programming demonstrating the bilateral benefits of the new Cuba. Cultural diplomacy means conscientious and consistent engagement between American and Cuban diplomats, entrepreneurs, and citizens. Partnership not paternalism, collective action not coercion, are the keys to successful cultural diplomacy.
Cuba’s blessing is universal literacy and long life; its curse has been the failure to make use of this extraordinary human capital. Even with minimal investment Americans will help ignite maximum dividends. Alternatively, continued isolation breeds insecurity. In a region increasingly characterized by instability, America cannot afford a failing state 90 miles from Miami.
Dynamic cultural diplomacy would empower American investors, innovators, and exporters; it would also give Cuban youth a reason to stay on the island and confidence in their future. First steps towards normalization have accelerated us to a critical crossroads, ascribing great urgency for a resolute policy. If Congress won’t act, diplomats must.
So, here’s what Cuba’s next revolution and US cultural diplomacy looks like:
- Cuba’s new harbors become a hub for maritime freight transport in the Caribbean. American industry experts assist their design and development, ensuring safety, efficiency, and progressive environmental impact compliance.
- Cuba’s farms generate sustainable sustenance; develop pioneering farming initiatives, and sup-port entrepreneurship. American agriculture initiatives help expand the 25% of arable land currently farmed.
- Cuba’s medical expertise creates a thriving biotech industry; American innovation and investment foster a bilateral partnership benefiting both the Cuban economy and the advance of medical science.
- Cuba’s artists and athletes share the passions of their American counterparts. Exchanges from baseball to skateboarding, poetry to jazz, fine art to gaming design, enliven both.
But how can we trust them? The island has two choices and Cubans know it: enter the global market, or continue to decay. Human rights will advance in response to international engagement because governments change when people change, and people change when dialogue begins.
Currently the island claims only 5% internet penetration. US investment in communication infra-structure would promote freedom of speech, democracy, and engage Cuban people with each other and the world.
As Cuba awakens to the global market pounding on the door, the balancing of cultural sovereignty and international investment needn’t be a nightmare. Environmental sustainability and cultural sovereignty is a central challenge in rapid development, which is why American diplomats should actively support a gradual and conscientious transition.
It’s time to leave dread and distrust to cult cinema, and construct a better policy through citizen-driven diplomacy. From athletes to artists, farmers to doctors, Cuba and America share the same greatest asset: our people. If the US Congress is still haunted by fear, US diplomats should lead this historic transformation, and allow Cuban and American solutions to emerge. Cuba’s next revolution is already here: just one more step and we are on the path to peace and prosperity, tapping the untamed potential of the Cuban and American people.
Keya Guimarães is a graduate student at George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs.