As you know by now, President Barack Obama and his family made a historic trip to Cuba earlier this week. It was the first time in 88 years that a sitting U.S. president set foot on Cuban soil, and it has been met with mixed feelings by those here in the United States. Most people in the U.S. don’t have the personal connection that some of us of Cuban decent have with this whole issue. So by and large, they view this as a good thing. And I understand that. It’s a situation that they don’t fully understand and for them it’s just a forbidden fruit 90 miles from the shore of Key West. But for those of us whose families had to fight and struggle to escape the island, the opinions on the trip are varied and most of them are not positive.
Dan Le Batard is an ESPN personality and sports writer for the Miami Herald, and his family is from Cuba. He resides in South Florida and like most people of Cuban decent in that area of the country, he has a strong sense of pride in his heritage and staunch anti-Castro feelings. He raised some valid questions regarding the Obama visit to Cuba and what the potential positive impact of an exhibition match between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team can possibly be. You can view the video here:
As someone who grew up hearing about the horrors of the Castro-led revolution and grave injustices brought down upon those who did not adhere to the dogma of the communist dictatorship, I can sympathize deeply with what Dan is talking about. But where he has trouble seeing what the positive impact can be, I can see the benefits.
I agree that the President of Cuba, Raul Castro and his brother, Fidel, committed many crimes during their 57 years in power. And I by no means condone the imprisonment of political dissidents and silencing of opposition that goes on to this very day. But the fact of the matter is the Cold War is over and for more than a half a century we have isolated the nation, with no benefit to the Cuban exile community or the people still on the island. If anything, our policy of isolation has given the regime in Cuba a scapegoat for the country’s problems that has helped them pull the wool over the eyes of Cuban citizens and perpetuate the system of intolerance and party-led corruption.
The loudest voices in Miami have always stated that any business between ourselves and Cuba would only help to prop up the regime by putting more money in their pockets. They have said that lifting the embargo and normalizing relations would give legitimacy to the communist government and further entrench their position over the Cuban people. But I ask, could the communist government really be any more entrenched than it already is? The embargo has done nothing but hurt the citizens of Cuba and make the pickings so slim that only high ranking party officials are able to enjoy simple pleasures. Aside from North Korea, Cuba is really the only communist nation to withstand the fall of the Soviet Union and our sanctions and chastising has done nothing to change that. I feel that the best bet for real democratic change on the island comes from the type of of cultural exchanges that we saw with the exhibition baseball match.
Before the revolution, Cuba and the United States had very strong ties. We are neighbors after all. Hell, baseball is both of our national pastimes. But it has been so long that people on both sides don’t really know much about each other anymore. I believe that by normalizing relations and lifting the economic embargo, we have the opportunity to show the Cuban people a different way of life that they haven’t known for a very long time. Once they meet more Americans, they will have a chance to see that democracy and capitalism aren’t necessarily the evil drain on society that they have been taught. They can see that there is a way for their brand of socialism to co-exist and perhaps even thrive along side free elections and a more open, sensible economy. President Obama’s trip has already yielded an agreement for Google to expand internet connection and wifi in Cuba, and if the Arab Spring taught us anything, it’s that the internet can help people band together to overthrow a dictatorship.
As Cuba becomes more connected to the outside world, it’s people can decide for themselves what the best way forward is. I know the exile community is bitter about all that was lost when they were forced to leave. Their businesses, their homes, their families. I feel for them, my family lost a lot too. But we can’t live in the past any longer. It’s time to reconnect with the place that is so close but seems so far away. And I think this baseball game, with Obama and Castro sitting next to each other enjoying something that so many of us, Cuban and American alike, enjoy is the first step in a long process. Baseball can help reunite the American people with those of Cuba, and as we restore our old friendship, we can help show Cubans a new way. But it has to be done together.
I will be going to Cuba for my first time next month. It will be the first time my mother has set foot in her homeland in more than 30 years. It will be hard, and emotional, and wonderful. Hopefully, it will be the first of many trips to the land of my ancestors and while I’m there, you can bet I’ll be trying to see some pelota and experience the game I love in a land I love so much but have yet behold with my own eyes and ears. Stay tuned…