OpEd: Cuba Libre’ (reprint)

In my mind, Phil Ochs was one of the greatest folk singers ever to play the American stage. In the 1960’s, his music and songwriting was as spectacular as Bob Dylan’s. Four decades after his passing, I still remember the magical lyrics from one of his songs:

“You are living in the free world, and in the free world you must stay…”

In 1972, President Richard Nixon went to China to open the door to diplomacy and trade. But four myopic and mindless decades later, only 90 miles from Key West, America has steadfastly stonewalled Cuba.

How stupid, how foolish, how moronic.

Cuba Libre’. The moment that many thought would never come has come. The Cold War is over. It has been for a while. Fidel Castro’s opponents, like himself, are octogenarians. It’s time for a thaw and the twenty-first century to take hold. It’s time to embrace, not exclude.

Thousands of Cubans are already coming and going to and from the U.S. Do we still need to risk their lives and force them to come over on rescue boats? Does Cuba really need to be on a state terrorism list? Cubans are dancing at the Boardwalk, playing in a Marlins uniform, and running cafes on South Beach. Who are we kidding?

Lying on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Park in Key West two weeks ago, I was there when seven or eight refugees landed on the shore in a boat not fit for a Wilton Manors canoe race, let alone a trans Atlantic journey. Freedom has its rewards. Citizens on the beach cheered them as they reached American shores. They became the lead story on local TV stations.

Gay Cubans aspire to American ideals, but gay lifestyles in Havana are no longer sacrosanct. Legally, homosexuality may remain an ‘ ideological deviation,’ but as we normalize our relationships with the Cuban people, nights on the island may take on a lot more color and vitality.

Travel between Cuba and South Florida will be extensive. Havana will become a cultural center of nightlife and tourism again. Normalization works. Private enterprise is healthy, and Cuban cigars are good. It’s exciting, and not only for Cubans looking for American parts for their 1950’s Chevys.

It would be nice to have a U.S. senator who understood that, but Marco Rubio is stuck in the past on Cuba, the way Mayor Jack Seiler of Fort Lauderdale is stuck in the past on gay marriage. They are chained by regressive ideologies they won’t liberate from their minds. It’s too bad. The future will pass them by. They are like English colonialists fighting India’s freedom.

The reality is that the Cuban Revolution has achieved its aim and proved its point. The little country that could has survived as a free state for over half a century since the Bay of Pigs. They beat back the Yankee Goliath. Missiles are no longer pointed towards the U.S. Instead, we are pointing them at ourselves, living in the past that no longer is.

American high school textbooks won’t show it, but our national policy has isolated us from the rest of the world, not the other way around. Latin America and the United Nations have recognized Cuba for decades. In fact, according to Tom Hayden, who heads the California based Peace and Justice Resource Center, Cuba remains in the upper tier of the United Nations Human Development Index because of its educational and health care achievements.

Forget empanadas for a minute. Cuba has won renown for fighting apartheid in Angola and dispatching medical workers to contain the Ebola virus- and I don’t think any territorial governors in Havana locked up their nurses. Despite the American embargo, Cuba has found a place in the world community, just not in city halls in South Miami. The State of Florida and the USA has been held hostage by a bunch of local politicians for too damn long.

I know it would piss off a lot of Cubans in Miami, but damn, I would invite Fidel Castro to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day in South Florida. It’s time to throw out only decades of unnecessary hate and futile hostility, time to welcome the Cubans as our brothers and sisters, letting their families unite.


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