President Obama and the Miami Sound Machine
From Jurvetson's photostream
As Miami Herald columnist Myriam Marquez noted yesteday, Emilio and Gloria Estefan are eager to share their stories about Cuba with President Obama when he visits their home for a Democratic fundraiser this week. Their goal, writes Marquez, is to prevail on President Obama to put human rights at the top, and give the island's 11 million people hope.
But what is the best way to give hope, given the dire needs and growing desperation for change on the island?
Here in Cuba, a striking consensus has formed around the need for the country's leadership to take decisive steps toward economic reform. Taxi drivers to public officials openly claim that this is the moment when such steps cannot be avoided.
To someone visiting the island for the first time in eight years, the shift is remarkable. In 2002, people whispered about the need for change; today, official voices and ordinary citizens claim that without substantial reforms, Cuba will not be able to maintain its commitments to health care and education for all. Sylvio Rodriguez's new release attracted a lot of attention for implying that the "r" in revolution be dropped to reflect the desire of Cubans for change, but he's not exactly on the cutting edge of that trend.
If the Herald's editorial comment yesterday is any indication, the U.S. will continue the hard-liners' focus on Cuba's aged leadership and "maintain the pressure." The Herald believes that this is the way to "stand up to Cuba's crisis." From inside the island it is hard to see how this approach is really going to help raise the hopes of Cubans, or respond to the desire they have for change, for peace and for reconciliation. For one thing, as a Catholic official explained to me, greater pressure from the United States effectively freezes action in Cuba. The fear of aggression from the north strengthens hard-liners and freezes reform that might help more Cubans. His advice? "The strong one must take the first step."
If there's any doubt as to who the strong one is, visit Cuba -- a poor country, full of people who are friends of the United States, struggling against all odds to patch together decent lives. Cuba has been devastated by the global economic crisis and decades of poor management and jury-rigged responses to problems. Worse, it is a country haunted and tortured by the pain of countless families torn apart. At the airport, Jorge, eyes reddened from tearful goodbyes to family members he won't see for another year, said: "It is an incredible situation, and they don't understand it over there in Miami. You've seen it, so you understand -- but for them it will take a long, long time."
The Herald's Marquez describes the motivation of the Estefans: "At the epicenter ... are Emilio and Gloria trying to bridge the hurt feelings and broken hearts, to honor their parents and their cubanía, their humanity. Heads held high and at peace, they are trying to push that window wide open." But it is very hard to see how wielding their influence to support the same harsh policies of isolation will help to open anything in Cuba.