What could be more pompous (and insulting) than the argument that American and foreign tourists can “inspire” the Cuban people to seek democracy? Not much.
Well, on second thought, maybe Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York calling their bill to sweep away all remaining restrictions on American travel to Cuba, the “Export Freedom to Cuba Act.”
Or, the Obama Administration, which rejects American exceptionalism everywhere else in the world, arguing that American travelers (that have been carefully screened for entry by the Castro regime) are our best “Ambassadors of Freedom” to the Cuban people.
Their argument is that Cubans, upon seeing spring breakers and tourists enjoying luxury “people-to-people” tours and Cuban-American “mules” peddling flat-screen TV’s, will suddenly realize what they’re missing under the Castros’ totalitarian dictatorship, as if Cubans don’t already know what’s missing, and life under a brutal regime was their voluntary choice.
The argument further holds that American travelers are different from the throngs of Canadian snowbirds and the European sex tourists visiting the island for the last two decades, frequently degrading the Cuban people while bankrolling the repressive regime.
American travelers, in other words, will be “truly inspirational.”
Americans are undoubtedly the kindest, noblest and most charitable people in the world. But it’s extraordinarily arrogant to argue that any foreign tourist is needed to inspire or empower the Cuban people, when some of the most courageous and inspirational people in this world are living in Cuba.
Meet Ivonne Mayeza Galano.
Last month, this amazing woman stood alone on the steps of the Capitol building in Havana. Knowing the brutality of the repression that awaited her, she nonetheless, peacefully held up a sign reading:
“Cambios en Cuba Sin Dictadura” (“Change in Cuba Without Dictatorship”)
She was promptly arrested, stripped naked, searched and violently interrogated.
Two weeks later, four other women, Sara Marta Fonseca, Mercedes García Álvarez, Tania Maldonado Sánchez and Odalys Zurma González, continued her protest. Predictably, they too were arrested, but this time it took Castro’s security forces 40-minutes to drag them away, as a gathering crowd of bystanders began to heckle the oppressors.
Or how about Iris Perez Aguilera?
This Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader is the founder of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. She undertakes weekly protests and sit-ins. As a result of these, Castro’s secret police, on numerous occasions, has abused and brutally beaten her — to the point of hospitalization.
Or how about Iris’s husband, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez?”
Antunez, often referred to as Cuba’s Nelson Mandela, spent 17-years as a political prisoner for protesting in the public square of his hometown. Today, still a young 46-years old, he is the leader of Cuba’s civil disobedience movement.
Or how about Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet?
A charismatic physician, he spent nearly 11-years in political prison for his democratic advocacy as head of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. At a recent concert, U2’s Bono honored Dr. Biscet as a true inspiration.
Or Marcelino Abreu, who has spent over 100 days on a hunger strike, protesting his unjust four-year prison-sentence. His crime was refusing to show a police officer identification after walking nearby the Castro regime’s tourist-only Hotel Nacional. Abreu still holds that Cubans should be free to walk on the public streets and enter the public buildings of their homeland. Cuban authorities disagree.
Or the young rappers and rockers that defy the Cuban dictatorship through their lyrics and whose concerts and music festivals are under constant siege by the “Ministry of Culture” backed by the regime’s armed police.
Or the bloggers and social media activists who brave the Castros’ censors to inform the world of the harsh brutality and injustices the Cuban people face.
How can foreign travelers —ignorant of life under tyranny and repression– represent democratic ideals better than these icons who have spent years in political prison, and brave daily violence and beatings, to express their democratic aspirations and promote change in Cuba?
Let those of us who live in the United States stop insulting courageous pro-democracy leaders in Cuba with talk of “inspiring” them. The Cuban people don’t need to be “inspired” by people abroad. They need our unwavering support for their struggle and for tangible pressure against the dictatorship that represses them.