Time to Talk
Marvin R. Shanken, Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99
It is true that because of politics, Cuba and Cubans have been off-limits to Americans for nearly 40 years. There was a time when the embargo that closed off the island just 90 miles south of Key West was justified by global politics and the Cold War. That's simply not true today. What is still true is the deep animosity in the Cuban-American community toward President Fidel Castro's government. That hostility is not only aimed at Castro's communist ideology, but at real and complex issues such as the Cuban government's seizure of homes, businesses and properties. Strong feelings also remain over the unjust imprisonment of Cuban citizens who dared to speak out against the government. Those issues will someday have to be resolved. But that's not what this issue is about.
This issue is about one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean, and one of the most fascinating people in the hemisphere.
It's about a Cuban culture that is thriving, both at home and abroad: mambo and son bands are drawing huge crowds around the globe; Cuban painters are enjoying success in galleries from Paris to Buenos Aires; and, of course, Cuban cigars continue to set the standard for premium hand-rolled cigars for connoisseurs everywhere.
But access to much of the complexity of the culture and all of the island's beauty is being denied to Americans.
When President John F. Kennedy imposed the trade embargo in 1962, the Caribbean was still an exotic destination. Except for Havana. For Americans who came of age soon after the Second World War, Havana was a place to honeymoon, vacation and have fun. Cuba's image as a tropical paradise was formed in those days.
Since 1959, time has stood still there. For those with memories of pre-Castro Havana, a return visit would be a shock; the same old Hudsons and Chevys are cruising the boulevards, and almost all of the old buildings are still standing. Remarkably few modern edifices dot the skyline. The buildings are run-down, but they are there.
Perhaps the most important facet of Cuba, however, is the desire of the Cuban people to welcome American visitors. Many have family members in the United States, and on some nights, the sounds of Miami radio stations drift across the Straits of Florida, so, in effect, they feel as if it's part of their lives...but they can't get there.
At press time, there was a hopeful sign that U.S.-Cuba relations might be thawing, at least a little. Major League Baseball accepted an invitation by the Cuban government to have the Baltimore Orioles play a game in Havana against the Cuban national team on March 28; talks were under way for a return game in Baltimore. This is exactly the kind of people-to-people exchange that fosters trust and can lead to closer relations in the future.
The time has come for politicians in Washington and Havana to listen to the people. The grievances of the past will never be resolved with threats, or violence, or silence. In America, a generation of Cuban-Americans have never seen their homeland, and they long for the day when they can return. They don't want to go through what their parents experienced. The dialogue must be started. It can start simply with the opening of the doors, and letting Cubans and Americans begin talking to each other. We hope this issue can help lay the groundwork for normalized relations between Cuba and the United States.
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