Neri Ann Martinez, the former chairwoman of the Free Cuba Foundation and our good friend, looks back at her years leading one of the most prominent Cuba democracy organizations in the U.S.:
Neri Ann Martinez, FCF Chairwoman 2001-2005 looks back over her tenureMy time as President of the Free Cuba Foundation from 2001 – 2005 was deeply transformative and held great influence over the course I took in my life post-FCF. During my college years, I had become interested in the topic of human rights due to some mission travel in other countries but was not particularly aware of the grave situation in Cuba. Even though I was a first generation Cuban by birth, my family had been exiled in the 1960’s and had never looked back. I was recruited to join the Free Cuba Foundation in 2000 in the halls of the Florida International University Graham Center and was the only extracurricular activity I pursued during my time.
Growing up in Miami, we had a lot of exposure to Cuban culture in our surroundings. We ate Cuban food, smoked cigars, drank rum, danced salsa, and spoke Spanglish frequently. Nostalgia over the “times that where” permeated nearly ever aspect of family gatherings and conversations among friends. Yet, very little was known or discussed on the topic of what the island looked like now, how the people lived, or what their culture was like at present day. What was most impactful to me during my tenure was becoming aware of the vastly different and often saddening conditions of the Cuba that was, the Cuba that is now and the Cuba that it is falsely portrayed to be.
The truth can sometimes be a burdensome thing. I believe that apathy in the human condition is prevalent because, the more we know, the more responsible we become with the information we’ve obtained. Within the island and outside of it, the realities of the plight of the Cuban people can become too much to bear, impossible to believe, and enormously in contrast with the propaganda fed to us. It is however, imperative, that within our own capacity to do so, we bring to light these aspects of darkness and expose the ugliness that controls such a beautiful place. My own perspective from outside the island humbly reminds me that while Cuba is not my home, and no longer my identity, this is not the case for 11 million Cubans.
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