The old fossil hate begins to change
For The Herald in the US
NEW YORK — Granma, the official voice of the Cuban Communist Party, printed several pictures of the moment when last Friday, February 28, Fernando González stepped onto the tarmac of José Martí International Airport in Havana. He had been handcuffed during the flight; his expression was filled with anxiety. He was also shown in an old-fashioned VIP room — beige curtains, ornamented rug, heavy armchairs — where grey-haired men in khakis greeted him as President Raúl Castro hugged him and called him a hero: the second of the Cuban Five released after serving his full sentence in the US for conspiracy and failure to register as foreign a agent.
González Llort, René González (on parole since October, 2011; allowed to go back to Cuba last year), Antonio Guerrero (estimated release: September 2017), Ramón Labañino (estimated release: October 2024) and Gerardo Hernández (two life terms plus 15 years) are considered heroes in Cuba and have been at the centre of an international campaign for their freedom.
They were convicted in 2001 as part of the Wasp Network, a group of 10 people (the other five took plea bargains) sent by Fidel Castro, still in power, to spy on anti-Cuban militant groups in Florida. Cuba had been the object of right-wing attacks — among them, a series of bombs in the hotels of a newly revived tourism industry, the main source of national income after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In one of those attacks an Italian citizen was killed. One of the Five, Hernández, was charged with conspiracy to commit murder: he had infiltrated Brothers to the Rescue before the Castro government shot down two of their planes, allegedly over Cuban waters, killing four activists. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
The trial of the Cuban Five was the longest in US history at that time and, according to the defence, one of the most unfair; they had limited access to the evidence and were denied a change of jurisdiction from Miami to Fort Lauderdale, only 20 miles to the North. As a consequence, the Jury felt the pressure of the strongly anti-Castrist media and the extremist exiled. Five years later the UN Human Rights Commission declared that the trial had been “arbitrary,”because it “did not take place in the climate of objectivity and impartiality which is required.”Former US President Jimmy Carters aid in 2011, in one of his friendly visits to Cuba: “In my private talks to President (George W.) Bush and also with President (Barack) Obama, I have urged the release of these prisoners.”
The Cuban Five case is a sample of the fossil relations between the US and Cuba. Another one is the embargo, in place for 54 years, which has only caused suffering to the Cubans without even scratching the surface of the Castro brothers control over the island — and maybe adding to it by reinforcing the image of a David-and-Goliath battle.
Six statues enforce the embargo, from the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 to the famous Helms-Burton Act of 1996 which strengthened the ban of business and listed requirements that Cuba should meet in order to trade again. Nevertheless, the US is among the five largest exporters to the island. Legal shortcuts allow the US to receive as much as $457,318,357 in communist cash (Cuba cannot get credit) in exchange for poultry, pork, corn, wheat and soybean oil, according to US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, Inc.
Even if US citizens cannot travel to Cuba without previous government authorization, they do so through a third country, like Mexico or Bahamas. The same goes for Cuban-American families who find a way to avoid restrictions to visit or assist their loved ones on the island.
It is hardly a surprise, then, to know that 56 percent of US citizens “from every region and across party lines support normalizing relations with Cuba,” as a recent Atlantic Council pollproved. Over 2,000 people were surveyed by Glen Bolger, a Republican, and Paul Maslin, a Democrat. The supposedly stubborn Sunshine State showed a higher rate of support: 63 percent.
Democrat Charlie Crist, who wants to be Florida Governor for a second time, is trying to change his hard-liner image and has announced his support for ending sanctions against Cuba.“The embargo has been there — what, 50 years now? I don’t think it worked. It is obvious to me that we need to move forward and I think get the embargo taken away,” he said in February on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Even sugar mogul and exile leader Alfonso Fanjulsaid he would be “happy” to take back “the family flag” to Cuba: “If there’s an arrangement within Cuba and the United States, and legally it can be done and there’s a proper framework set up and in place, then we will look at that possibility. We have an open mind”, he said to The Washington Post.
Republican representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz-Balart, and Senator Marco Rubio, were shocked.
But both Crist and Fanjul want simple things: one, to go back to office with the promise of job creation for Floridians; the other, to expand his business. They have paid attention to Raúl Castro’s measures to fuel the private sector through foreign investment and the creation of local entrepreneurship; also the change of unpopular migration policies which now allow Cubans (at least those who can get the money to do so) to travel abroad, and those who fled from poverty, to return.
US liberal press have also been taking note of those changes. “The Evolution of Cuba,” was the title of a piece by Damien Cave in The New York Times last Sunday; The Boston Globe run an editorial, “Cuba’s reforms pave way for new US policy, too,” one year ago. The point is also simple: if the neighbour does not step onto the island, China certainly will.
Ever since Cuba’s Independence Wars, the love-hate bonds between the country and the US have been deep and not only political. It is almost natural that most of US nationals want to end the embargo and do business with Cuba (62 percent), believe that it should not be in the list of terrorist countries (52 percent, 61 percent in Florida), wish to be able to travel without restrictions (61 and 67 percent) and favour diplomatic coordination on issues of mutual concern (56 and 62 percent).
There are political prisoners in Cuba — among them Alan Gross, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) subcontractor sentenced to 15 years for “acts against the territorial integrity of the state”; there are three of the Five. There is a communist system evolving in an unpredictable direction, lacking dissent or freedom of speech and assisting growing opportunity along with economic inequality; there have been US$17.5 million assigned for “Cuba democracy programs”out of USAID budget every year (it seems that not in 2014, due to complaints over mishandling) for Miami-based organizations. And there are new generations of Cubans, both on the island and in the US, who have gone hungry during the so-called Special Period, suffered family diaspora, and lost the best years of their lives to Cold War leftovers. They want change — and they’re not alone.
Harlot’s Ghost recounts the years of Bay of Pigs, the killing attempts against Fidel Castro, the Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination. The three words that close Norman Mailer’s colossal worksound today as unsettling as ever: “To be continued.”@gesq