The extensive coverage the media has given to an very small number of vocal Cuban-Americans who opposed the celebration of a concert held in Miami by Cuban artist Pablo Milanés stands in stark contrast to the sentiment of the majority of the exile community, which has gone largely unreported. For years, we have seen how the media has sensationalized protests by these (most likely the same) small number of exiles who, blinded by their hatred for the Cuban regime, have worked tirelessly to maintain the status quo in both Washington and Havana.
These Cuban-Americans have every right to feel hurt and even hatred as many suffered greatly at the hand of the Cuban government several decades ago. They came to this country in search of freedom and the right to voice their beliefs and we should respect and protect their right to do so. The media has done more than its share to defend these protestors and their rights. But this small minority of Cuban-Americans does not represent the entire exile community. Unfortunately, headlines such as “Exile groups oppose Cuba musician Pablo Milanes’ Aug. 27 concert in Miami,” do little to report the true diversity of the community and sensationalize the small but vocal minority whose main purpose is to make headlines. More damaging however than the sensationalist headlines and all the attention that is given by the media to defenders of the status quo, is the lack of attention given to the majority of the exile community that has long advocated for and supported greater contact between Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits.
For over 50 years, US policy toward Cuba has had the single aim of isolating Cuba from the outside world and forcing the collapse of the island nation’s economy in hopes of bringing about regime change. Other than a small, vocal group in Miami and Washington, the rest of the world now acknowledges the obvious truth that US policy has been a categorical failure. It is less often recognized, however, that US policy may actually have made change on the island less likely. An amendment last week proposed by Florida Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a longtime defender of the status quo in US policy toward Cuba, is the most recent evidence of this fact.
This article first appeared in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on February 1, 2011
News last week that French telecom Alcatel-Lucent SA has begun laying a 1,600-kilometer underwater fiber optic cable between Venezuela and Cuba is the latest evidence of how U.S. sanctions toward Cuba undermine U.S. national interests and push the communist island into the open arms of our adversaries and continue Cuban citizen’s dependence on the regime. By focusing solely on isolating the Cuban government and denying it resources, the U.S. has, ironically, only isolated itself from the realities at play inside Cuba and alienated its allies. Unfortunately, legislation proposed last week by Florida Congressman Vern Buchanan only continues this counterproductive pattern and, in this case, puts Florida’s industry and environment at greater risk.
Speaking to Latin American leaders at an OAS summit in Port of Spain in April of 2009, President Obama declared, “the U.S. seeks a new beginning with Cuba.” "I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled to overcome decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day." His comments followed a White House announcement that the U.S. would lift restrictions on family travel and remittances to Cuba, fulfilling a campaign promise that Mr. Obama made in an April 2007 op-ed in the Miami Herald. In that article, then-candidate Obama stated that: “the primary means we have of encouraging positive change in Cuba today is to help the Cuban people become less dependent on the Castro regime in fundamental ways.” Critics cautioned that Obama would upset Miami Cubans costing him important votes in a crucial electoral State. “Why, in a Tuesday op-ed piece in the Miami Herald, would he challenge the Cuban-American elders and call for dismantling President Bush's hefty restrictions on Cuban-Americans making visits and sending money to relatives in Cuba?” asked Time magazine. In the end, Barack Obama won over 35% of the Cuban-American vote, more than any other Democratic presidential candidate in modern history.
Social media giant Twitter has confirmed that the loss of service experienced by Cuban bloggers posting messages using SMS technology from the island was the result of a technical issue and not the result of censorship by the Cuban government. A statement issued by the company via its Twitter account @twitter_es today, stated that:
“We have disabled “long” coding for sending tweets via SMS”
This technical jargon basically explains that when twitter changed the numbers to which users send their SMS messages from "long coding," meaning real phone numbers, to "short coding," meaning 5 digit codes, it interrupted any SMS messages sent to the original long telephone numbers from being posted on twitter. They are working to correct this issue. In this tweet, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez explains how Cuban bloggers send messages via SMS.
Yoani Sanchez reported to the Spanish news agency EFE last night that: “we’ve been left without a voice in the world of 140 characters.” Sanchez learned that messages she had been sending via SMS were not reaching her twitter account after followers alerted her that no activity had posted to her profile since Friday. Ms. Sanchez called on Twitter to clarify whether a service interruption was to blame:
@yoanisanchez #twitter must clarify if its service has censured us from publishing tweets by SMS or if the government of #Cuba has blocked us.
Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who operates under the Twitter account @yoanisanchez, reported from Cuba tonight that Cuban citizens have been unable to publish to the social media site using SMS text messages since last Friday. The Maria Moors Cabot and Ortega y Gasset award recipient explains that it was only today that she and other bloggers realized the tweets they had been sending via SMS since Friday had not been published after followers noticed the three-day silence from Havana. Cuban bloggers regularly post updates to Twitter using their cell phones by sending an SMS text message, but are unable to see whether their tweets have been posted, nor read anyone else’s updates. As of Tuesday night, Cuban bloggers had not been able to confirm whether Twitter was experiencing a technical glitch or other problem that could explain the service interruption.
The announcement this weekend by dissidents inside the island that the Cuban government may be preparing to release additional political prisoners beyond the initial group of 52 announced a few months ago is encouraging on at least two fronts. According to news reports, Laura Pollan of the Ladies in White and Elizardo Sanchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) stated that their organizations have been asked by Church and European authorities to help identify political prisoners for potential release. If the Cuban government moves forward with the anticipated release of additional political prisoners, it would represent the largest release of political prisoners since 1979. While the release itself represents a significant, positive step by the Cuban government, the acknowledgement by the Cuban government of the role of independent civil society organizations in this process is an unprecedented step.
During a markup hearing in the House Agriculture Committee in June of this year, opponents of a bill that would restore the rights of American citizens to travel to Cuba argued that the move was a “concession to the Cuban regime,” and that the U.S. should not move unilaterally but rather demand positive steps from Cuban leaders first. One Representative opposing the bill argued that Cuba should release political prisoners before the Congress move to lift the travel ban, a demand frequently made by defenders of the status quo until recently. But then the Catholic Church in Cuba announced in July that Cuban leaders had agreed to free the remaining 52 political prisoners from the “Black Spring” of 2003 and just a quickly as word of the announcement spread through the world media, the very people who had been demanding their release as a condition to the lifting of the travel ban quickly dismissed the significance of the move. This has been the attitude that has characterized defenders of the status quo as long as Raul Castro has presided over the greatest number and scope of reforms in Cuba’s 50-year revolution.
Guest Post By Tomas Bilbao, Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group
As a conservative, I have always been puzzled by supporters of the status quo in U.S. policy towards Cuba claiming that those advocating for more effective policies are all "liberals".
It is well documented that ever since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, when President Kennedy was accused by many of abandoning hundreds of Cuban-Americans who participated in the mission, most exiles have tended to register as Republicans. Over time, they have been a loyal constituency of the party and have enjoyed significant clout in determining U.S. policy toward Cuba. However, this loyalty has come at a cost. The policies advocated by a vocal and politically active minority of Cuban-Americans --the defenders of the status quo-- have run contrary to Republican principles.
Furthermore, defenders of the status quo have spent millions lobbying the U.S. government urging it to isolate the Cuban government by restricting the rights of Americans to travel to the island. Not only is this policy misguided in that helps the Cuban government in its efforts to isolate the Cuban people, but it runs contrary to the Republican principles of the protection of individual rights from the federal government. As a conservative, I expect totalitarian regimes to limit personal freedoms, not my own government.
For too long, the debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba has been dominated by narrow arguments at the two extremes. They either ignore Cubans' demands for desperately needed change in their country's failed system or appeals for necessary changes in U.S. policy. Both sides have been successful in turning a deaf ear to the fact that Cubans on the island are calling for change -- and not only in Cuba.
For those who would turn a blind eye on the suffering of the Cuban people, it is easy to overlook the desperate calls of countless Cubans who, through their voices and actions, have made clear the need for fundamental changes in the Cuban system. Meanwhile, defenders of the status quo work hard to ensure that the overwhelming majority of voices from the island calling for change in U.S. policy are never heard, lest they undermine their efforts to ensure nothing ever changes in Washington or in Miami.