I am a truthful man from this land of palm treesBefore dying I want to share these poems of my soulMy verses are light greenBut they are also flaming red - Guantanamera -based on a poem by Jose Marti
It should be obvious to anybody with a working brain that the U.S. embargo on Cuba has been a total failure from the start. The U.S. stubbornness on the issue is shamelessly driven by pure domestic political interests. A large Cuban voting bloc, in a pivotal state, has taken precedence over rationality and common sense.
Even during the height of the Cold War the U.S. maintained embassies and business relations with Russia and its communist satellite states. Of course they were, at least on paper, a strong military menace, something our Government was afraid to confront. It is much easier to be a bully with an island the size of Virginia, with limited firepower and no economic value, than with an equal superpower.
The 1960 embargo, which limits American businesses from conducting business with Cuban interests, is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history. Its impact has miserably failed to bring Cuba to its knees. It has instead, generated goodwill, sympathy and support, from the rest of the world, for the little island and its people.
For the last 50 years its 11 million citizens have struggled under Castro's unwavering iron fist, living through a shaky economy, disasters, no human rights, absolute government control of every aspects of life, poverty with education and health care, and an obsession with the United States.
In the last four years the world has seen the signs of a mild thaw. It started with Castro's illness, which kept him out of the limelight and shifted responsibilities to his brother Raul. However, those who thought Fidel was as good as dead, have been sorely disappointed.
At age 84 he has managed an amazing comeback, looking fit, willing to tackle subjects that have been taboo for half a century.
According to the Italian newspaper "Il Manifesto", Fidel Castro on August 30th gave a rather surprising and candid interview to a Mexican reporter touching on various issues, his improving health, his nemesis, the Internet, the world economy and terrorism. But, in what is the most stunning part of the interview, he surprisingly apologized for the mistreatment of homosexuals during his tenure. He describes it as one of his most serious mistakes.
He does not deny that homosexuals were forcibly emarginated from society, arrested, and sent to hard labor in agricultural and military camps. He admits that those were actions of grave injustice fueled by religious prejudice and a spontaneous, almost paranoid, reaction from the men who fought for the revolution. Fidel concedes that his men were preoccupied with fighting insurgents, sabotage, the numerous attempts on his life, the specter of the U.S., and the faltering economy. Homosexuals became, and remained, an easy scapegoat since they were considered to be against the Revolution. According to Castro, he then failed to address and correct the issue, he claims that the responsibility lies squarely at his feet. Ironically, it is also widely known that Castro himself has several long time friends who are gay.
Cuban gays are no longer padlocked in the closet. Under the banner "Homosexuality is not a danger, Homophobia is," several cities on the island held gatherings and workshops on May 17th openly celebrating International Day Against Homophobia. New initiatives in Cuba include same sex marriage and identity changes for transsexuals. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1990 and since 2008 socialized medicine covers sex change operations.
Decades of systematic discrimination and oppression against a defenseless minority cannot be swept aside with a newspaper interview aimed at appeasing critics, human rights organizations and the European Community. At the same time it is comforting to see that a man, a dictator at best, who has cultivated a macho image for 50 years, has the humility, in the twilight of his life, to apologize, recognize his past mistakes, and discuss homosexuality without the venom that many of our politicians and Christian preachers use when referring to our community.
Talking about the world at large he was asked, in closing: how can we all help shape a better future for mankind? His reply would have been considered science fiction material only a few years ago: "Educating and creating the necessary conditions for love and trust".
Cuba Libre, ahora!