Cuban-Americans, primarily those belonging to the Historic Exile (1959-1979), have been the target of insults lately after President Obama announced a new opening to Communist Cuba on December 17, 2014.
They have been called all kinds of pejoratives – Batista sympathizers, inveterate hardliners, cavemen, reactionaries. They don’t deserve these slanderous labels. Those who mischaracterize them do not really know the story of one of the most successful immigrant groups in the United States.
Indeed, most Cuban-Americans have taken umbrage at multiple racist cartoons that several national newspapers have published in the past. Two come to mind immediately – one by Oliphant and the other by Herblock. Pat Oliphant’s cartoon depicts Uncle Sam sending a bunch of Cuban-Americans on a raft back to Cuba for fear that they would interfere with the 2008 presidential election, and asking them to say hello to Batista. Herblock’s cartoon issues a warning to Cuban-Americans who are dissatisfied with U.S. laws to purchase a one-way ticket to Cuba. Both of these cartoons are slanderous to Cuban-Americans – a minority group that is more conscious than the average American of the supremacy of laws because they left a homeland that became lawless. Regarding Cuban-Americans returning to Cuba in 2008 and saying hello to Batista, this shows the utmost ignorance by Oliphant. Fulgencio Batista left Cuba on January 1, 1959, and died in 1973. Thus, it would have been impossible for Cuban-Americans, or for anyone else, to interact with Batista – which goes to prove that racism is based on ignorance and unfounded stereotyping. Anti-intellectualism may be an American tradition, but when mainstream cartoonists embrace ignorance, we are all diminished as a Nation.
Moreover, some media outlets indicate that the majority of these Cuban-Americans are Republicans and mostly whites. And, you can rest assured that these characterization are not complimentary.
Ignorance and prejudice are sins against humanity! Although they may not know much about Cuban-Americans, they have seen them or interacted with them in the past. When they’ve gone to the movie theaters, they’ve seen Andy García playing leading roles in “Godfather, Part III” and in “When a Man Loves a Woman.” They’ve watched television anchor and correspondent Soledad O’Brien report the news and interview guests in multiple shows in CNN, HBO, and Al Jazeera. They’ve seen journalist José Díaz-Balart interview the President of the United States. They’ve read or watched the film “The Mambo Kings,” written by Oscar Hijuelos (the first Hispanic to win the Pulitzer for fiction). They’ve listened to the magnificent interpretations of jazz classics by Grammy-winning saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and pianist/trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. They’ve danced to the catchy tunes of Celia Cruz (the Queen of Salsa), and rapper Pitbull. They’ve read about those who served in the President’s Cabinet: Carlos Gutierrez, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, and Mel Martínez, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. They’ve been entertained by the incomparable Sammy Davis, Jr., whose mother was of Afro-Cuban descent. They’ve celebrated special occasions by drinking Bacardi Rum and Grey Goose Vodka, both owned by the Bacardi Family.
Cuban-Americans are highly educated. According to the Pew Research Center, they have higher levels of education, as of 2011, than the Hispanic population overall. Twenty-five percent of Cubans ages 25 and older—compared with thirteen percent of all U.S. Hispanics — have obtained at least a bachelor’s degree. After losing all their personal possessions when they left Communist Cuba, they learned that the one thing that no totalitarian government could take away from them was a good education and a university degree.
And, Cuban-Americans wield immeasurable power in the realm of U.S. politics. While being less than one half of 1 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 3 percent of the U.S. Senate and more that 1 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives. In total, there are eight Cuban-Americans in the U.S. Congress – five in the House, and three in the Senate. They speak for four states – Florida, New Jersey, Texas, and West Virginia. They belong to both political parties. And, when it comes to issues regarding Cuba, they speak with one voice regarding the restoration of freedom and democracy to this Caribbean Island, the Pearl of the Antilles.
But, one thing that the majority of Cuban-Americans are certain of is never to trust a Castro. Fidel and Raul have subjected the Cuban population to 56 years of totalitarian rule. With the average monthly salary of a Cuban employee being $20 and with many Cuban youngsters having to resort to prostitution to feed their families, most Cubans have lost hope of a better future. They cannot complain to anyone or participate in protest rallies for fear that they will be ignored, arrested, receive lengthy jail sentences, or assassinated. Two prominent political dissidents, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá, disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Requests made to the Cuban Government to investigate these cases have fallen on deaf ears. No one pays attention to their cries for justice, as the Cuban Government is not interested in finding the truth, but only in hiding it.
So, are Cuban-Americans Batista sympathizers? Some of them are, but they are a minority and have to play by American rules while living in the United States. Although I’ve been called this designation in the past, I could not be a sympathizer of any political figure as I was 11 years old when I left Cuba. This shows vividly that these people who dislike Cuban-Americans so much are not interested in logical debates, but in ad-hominem attacks. In 1959, the majority believed that Fidel was the best hope for a better Cuba, only to regret it shortly after. This majority made up the cream of the crop of Cuban society – the professionals, the businessmen, the entrepreneurs, the entertainers who wanted a better life as a reward for their talent. They are the sons and daughters of this generation of Cuban-Americans who rose to prominence in American society because of the example that their parents gave them that it took hard work, dedication, and determination to achieve the American dream.
Are they cavemen? Not by any stretch of the imagination. They want nothing else than freedom and democracy for Cuba. No one would dream of calling former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt a caveman for fighting to restore freedom and prosperity to our allies during World War II. No one would dare to call Nelson Mandela a caveman for fighting to remove the apartheid plague from South Africa. Freedom is an equal-opportunity dream.
Are they reactionaries? No, again. They are champions of progress who have exceeded in all areas of American culture – the arts, humanities, sciences, and business. Instead, it is the Cuban Government officials who merit the reactionary label. They sentenced former USAID contractor Alan Gross to fifteen years in prison for simply distributing cell phones and computers to the island’s small Jewish community to connect it through the Internet with the outside world – not a crime anywhere else. In 2014, only 3.4 percent of homes in Cuba had Internet access – one of the lowest rates in the world – and it was largely limited to government employees and expensive pay-by-hour public access. Among the things that the Cuban Government fears the most is providing access to unfiltered information to its population. Keeping Cubans in the dark is the safest way for the Cuban Government officials to remain in power in perpetuity.
Are they inveterate hardliners? This, they are. Many of them believed Fidel Castro when he promised them in 1959 a revolution “as green as Cuba’s palm trees” with national elections in three months. They remember Fidel saying in July of 1959 that “I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement,” and doing an about-face in December of 1961 by stating “I am a Marxist-Leninist, and I will be a Marxist-Leninist until the last days of my life.” They do remember Raul Castro giving the order in 1996 to shoot down two Brothers to the Rescue unarmed civilian planes in international waters, killing three U.S. citizens and one Cuban-American resident. They resent the Cuban Government for giving the title of national heroes to the Cuban Five Spies on February 24, 2015 — the nineteenth anniversary that Cuban Migs shot down two planes belonging to Brothers to the Rescue. And, they became aware on January 28, 2015 of Raul Castro’s ludicrous demand of requiring the U.S. Government to compensate Cuba for the estimated $1 trillion in damages for the U.S. embargo. And, yet, it was the Cuban Government that triggered the U.S. embargo when they confiscated the holdings of U.S. businesses shortly after Fidel rose to power in 1959 – which originally were valued at $1.8 billion, and which at 6 percent simple interest translates to nearly $7 billion in 2014. It is incomprehensible for Cuban officials to expect compensation from the victims of their illegal behavior.
Are the majority of Cuban-Americans affiliated with the Republican Party? Well, the United States is a free country, and no political party has an advantage over the other. Membership in one is determined by the confluence of ideology and platform with voters’ core values. And, the majority of Cuban-Americans think that the Democratic Party has betrayed their ideals. Most Americans are familiar with the three-strikes-and-you-are-out rule of baseball. Well, the Democratic Party has struck out with most Cuban-Americans. First, in 1961, President Kennedy crushed the hope to bring back freedom to Communist Cuba when he betrayed them at the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Second, President Clinton betrayed the aspirations of Elizabeth Broton Rodríguez to have her son, Elián González, raised in freedom in the United States. Elizabeth drowned in the open sea, but Elián was miraculously rescued by two fishermen and turned over U.S. Coast Guard. In 2000, President Clinton returned Elián to Communist Cuba. And, on December 17, 2014, President Obama announced his decision to relax travel, trade and economic restrictions with Communist Cuba. The deal was made after 18 months of secret negotiations in Canada and the Vatican, while keeping U.S. congressmen in the dark. There was a reason for the lack of transparency in this deal. President Obama knew that U.S. congressmen from both sides of the aisle would have objected to this unilateral deal with Communist Cuba.
After being called out on strikes, most Cuban-Americans opine that the Democratic Party considers them the enemy or not important enough to care about getting their votes. It was not like this before. There were many Cuban-Americans whose views were more compatible with those held by Democrats. But, it has come to this now. Just look around at how many Cuban-Americans get nominated to political appointments in the Federal Government when a Democrat wins the White House. Let me answer this rhetorical question for you: NOT MANY!
Are the majority of Cuban-Americans who came to the United States from 1959-1979 primarily whites? The quick answer is “yes.” According to the 2012 census, conducted by the National Office of Statistics of Cuba, the Cuban population was mostly white (65.1%), minorities included mulatto and mestizo (24.8%) and Afro-Cubans (10.1%). Within a century after the landing of Christopher Columbus in Cuba in 1492, the indigenous people were virtually wiped out due to Eurasian diseases and cruelty of the Spaniards. During this time period, the Cuban Government inundated the air waves with news about the rampant discrimination in the United States. Alabama Police Chief Bull Connor and his police department’s use of fire hoses, police dogs, and night sticks to break up civil rights demonstrations got as much air time as the speeches of Dictator Fidel Castro. After listening and viewing to these sound bites, most Afro-Cubans decided that the United States of America was not a welcoming place for them. And, ironically today, the majority of human rights dissidents in Cuba – from Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet to Jorge Luis García Pérez (better known as Antúñez) – are Afro Cubans.
At a hearing on February 2, 2015, before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, Antúñez indicated that he had “been subjected to torture, arrests and raids on my home by Castro’s political police for denouncing the human rights situation in Cuba at international forums.” He went on to say that the Obama-Castro Accords “are considered by a vital segment of the Cuban Resistance as a betrayal of the aspiration to freedom of the Cuban people.”
There is an African proverb that reads “Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse.” Finding out why the majority of Cuban-Americans think that the Obama-Castro Accords are treasonous to the cause of freedom in Cuba is something desirable for the citizens of the last bastion of freedom on Earth. You can find from me, a Cuban-American who left his homeland at age 11, or you can find out from Antúñez, who served a seventeen-year sentence for calling out for political and economic reforms in his country. But, find out you must! It a crime to let the enemies of the United States to do the thinking for you!
Cuban-Americans want nothing more than a Cuba Libre. A Cuba without any political prisoners, where Cubans can participate in free and fair elections conducted under the supervision of internationally recognized observers. A Cuba that recognizes human rights and basic freedoms as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory nation. A Cuba that allows the establishment of independent trade unions and the creation of independent social, economic, and political associations. A Cuba that does not include Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, or any member of this family. A Cuba of the Cubans, by the Cubans, and for the Cubans.
[I submitted the above op-ed to multiple national newspapers, and all came back with multiple excuses for not publishing it. Out of frustration, I posted it on my LinkedIn account. As of today, it’s been viewed by 18,005 readers and growing].