Guest View: Cuba still waiting for its Jose Marti

Gavilan Trustee Tony Ruiz, a Hollister representative, accused the board of an illegal closed-session vote on the redistricting matter.
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Philosophers like Spain’s Antonio Machado believe you can’t separate a man from his dreams. If this is so, the Cuban people are still waiting for Jose Marti, the beloved leader and martyr of its independence from Spain.  Jose Marti was a writer and poet who truly understood what freedom, dignity, and democracy is all about. That is the dream he left the Cuban people who have read Marti’s works and have waited for his dream to encircle their small island.
“I am a sincere man, from where the palms grow…and before I pass on, I want to disperse…my verses from my soul”
– Jose Marti, lyrics to the song “Guantanamera”
Even after Cuba’s liberation from Spain, the people lacked self-determination and were in the grip of foreign intervention from the United States, dictators like Bautista, and Fidel Castro. I cannot think of another country where individuals have never had the freedom to make choices regarding their future. As Americans, most of us take this freedom for granted.
In June of 2000 a local friend and I traveled to Cuba as part of a research group. We departed on a direct flight to Havana from Los Angeles, the first flight from the west coast in 41 years. The historical significance of the flight and the attention of the media on a young Cuban child, Elian Gonzalez, added drama to our trip. The Clinton Administration  wanted to send the child back to his father in Cuba, but the local child’s relatives had polarized public opinion. This was another bad incident in U.S.-Cuban relations. And, it brought Fidel Castro out of retirement. Eventually, the child was sent back. I was a witness to this event from a Cuban perspective.
When I left for Cuba, I felt like most Americans and returned feeling like most Cubans. I had no idea of the changes made after the Russians left in 1991: freedom of religion, more municipal democracy, greater acceptance of the LGBT community and, most importantly, the existence of 250,000 private businesses. However, without Russian subsidies Cubans had experienced the worst of times.
What I learned after spending time with experts and attending many meetings convinced me that normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations was about to improve and bring justice to 11 million Cubans. I truly believed Cubans would, like Americans, finally be able make decisions in their best interests. However, these Cubans were held hostage by their government, and a U.S. policy demanded by angry Cubans in Florida who suffered at the hands of Fidel Castro. So I was wrong. But that was 14 years ago.
On the morning of Dec. 17, my routine was interrupted by the news that our administration was to change our 54-year-old policy towards Cuba. Since then, I have reconnected with my American hosts to Cuba, read numerous reports and joined a closed-circuit group in communication with the State Department regarding the specific changes.
Today, our policy towards Cuba is a relic of the Cold War, much like the mortar from the Berlin Wall. Many of us have supported organizations actively pursuing normal relations since the Soviets ceased economic subsides to Cuba. We recognize historical realities. Expanding capitalistic activity brings about democracy, and that is what is being proposed. Capitalism is an economic institution controlled by a representative government. Capitalistic societies must be transparent and tolerant of their citizens and cooperative with other countries. Communism is an economic institution controlled by a totalitarian form of government. Who cares what Fidel and Raul Castro call themselves or their government if capitalism is the institutional foundation of a country? They can call themselves kings, Nazis, Lords, Communists like China and Vietnam if they wish.
After 54 years, it’s time for the United States and Cuba to normalize diplomatic and economic relations. Our policy doesn’t work, it is in conflict with our values, and in the minds of too many Cubans it overshadows Fidel’s failures. Let’s allow Jose Marti’s dream to flourish.
Children play in Verado park waiting for the mysterious Americanos they have heard so much about; many students are reading from Marti’s versos sencillos (simple verses) waiting for a better future; merchants in the small shops of Old Havana are waiting for the thousands of tourists from 90 miles away; old men with wrinkled shadowy faces like the building facades of the Melecon face the Caribbean waiting and hoping for better times for their offspring; many elders are waiting to see relatives for the first time. All of them are waiting for Jose Marti.
Tony Ruiz is a former Gavilan Trustee and professor.

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