On Monday March 21, President Obama made history when he stepped onto the tarmac at José Martí International Airport in Havana, Cuba, the first sitting American president to do so since 1928.
When President Coolidge visited, however, Cuba was a different place. When he visited, he said, “Today, Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, and prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government.” Unfortunately, our president today can’t say the same thing.
On December 17, 2014, President Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro began discussing normalizing relations between the countries, with the ultimate goal of lifting the embargo that the U.S. placed on Cuba 54 years ago. The more news that came out, the more people with no ties to the island became aware of it’s existence and significance, and questioned the purpose of the embargo altogether; many of them asked, why not just get rid of it? Not only did they question the purpose of the embargo, but almost instantly, people began planning spring break trips to the country to see for themselves the island frozen in time. For the record, I totally get why most people don’t care for the embargo anymore and, quite frankly, are completely over hearing all the Cuba talk. Millennials, especially, want to see things change – and I do too; but as a Cuban-American, the embargo is not the priority. There’s a lot more I’d like to see happen first.
“It just, like, supports the commercialization of Cuba despite the fact that it’s government is still violating human rights. It looks like he’s forgetting why they had the embargo in the first place,” sophomore Veronica Romanach says.
When people think, “Cuba”, they think charming old cars and historic architecture, nostalgic of a simpler time in the world. However, there’s no charm to this — this isn’t the choice or intention of the Cuban people. The cars they drive, often from the 50s and 60s, are their parents’ cars that they purchased when they were new; those cars were handed down from person to person, and are still being used today. Believe it or not, it’s not for aesthetic appeal. The buildings seem run-down and old because, well, they are. The way the resources are distributed in the country are done so in such a way that the condition in which they live isn’t a priority. In fact, the needs of the Cuban people fall pretty low on the priority totem pole, including meeting their basic human rights needs.
In this day in age, 2016, Cuban citizens are constantly being arrested for speaking out against the government. Just hours before the president’s visit, 50 Damas de Blanco, an opposition movement begun in 2003 by the wives and family members of political prisoners, were arrested during a weekly peaceful march.
But that’s not all; the Cuban American National Foundation released a list of 47 political prisoners – an incomplete list – with some sentences lasting up to eight and nine years. When Castro was pressed about the topic of political prisoners, he asked, “What political prisoners? Tell me a name, or the names.” He continued, “When the meeting concludes, give me a list with the names, and if we have those political prisoners, they will be released by the end of tonight.”
Not everyone may see the issue with President Obama visiting, but some do. “I’m honestly not sure what to think about it. I like the idea that we could possibly be getting closer with Cuba, but at the same time, I don’t know if this is the Cuba that I want to be ‘friends’ with,” says Nicholas Bustamante, a student who still, like so many others, has relatives on the island.
In an interview that President Obama had with ABC News, he stated that the embargo we have on Cuba is, “…the last excuse the Castro’s have for some of [Cuba’s] economic problems.” He continued to say that lifting the embargo will, “…hasten the changes that will take place.” Our embargo is not the reason for Cuba’s condition. Our embargo was placed three years after the Cuban Revolution began, and is the only embargo placed on Cuba by a major country. The Castro brothers, not the embargo, are responsible for Cuba’s economic condition and the poor quality of life on the island.
Next time you consider a spring break or summer vacation trip, don’t consider Cuba; your dollars will go to the government and continue feeding into the life they live today. Let’s solve the human rights issue first, and look forward to the day when a future president can reiterate the words former President Coolidge spoke so long ago.
Our families didn’t leave the island for this.