Elaine A., a Miami grandmother, vividly remembers fleeing with her parents to the United States in 1960. They entered on tourist visas and immediately sought asylum, having left everything behind except a week’s worth of clothes in their suitcases. She revealed that she’s often thought “maybe it’s time to lift the embargo so that Cubans will know that their terrible poverty is due to the failure of communism, and not to the embargo.” If they knew that, she reasoned, they’d be more likely to overthrow the regime and install a democratically elected government with freedoms guaranteed in a new constitution.
Lifting the embargo is up to Congress, of course, and the measures described by President Obama on Wednesday could not go so far as to reverse the embargo or eliminate the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists, although they may visit under a long list of exceptions.
Others pointed out that Chinese communist leaders are possibly even more brutal than Cuba’s communist leadership, yet the US allows Americans to travel to China and do business there, on the ground that exposure to freedoms and democratic ideals will encourage change.
A parochial vicar at a nearby parish (who asked not to be named) pointed out that the close generational ties within Cuban American families will not change as a result of the new U.S. policy. But he believes grandparents view the Cuban government very differently from their grandchildren. For them, the repression, the confiscation of property, the incarceration, torture and killing of dissidents touched every family that escaped and every family that remained behind, forever separated from loved ones. Some of the older generation have reflected on these wrongs for 50 years and carry them around in their hearts like a stone. They have chosen not to forget and not to forgive the very great wrongs done to them and their loved ones.
But in the eyes of their grandchildren, he continued, their grandparents’ trials and sufferings seem remote, historic. They are stories without the emotional impact. Younger Cuban Americans think of the Castros as no better or worse than scores of brutal dictators around the world—many in countries with which the US has diplomatic ties and many in countries we even consider to be allies.
Cuba’s future is uncertain. We can’t know if the Castro regime would have fallen soon, as some claim, from having lost significant financial support from Russia and Venezuela, whose oil-dependent economies are taking a beating. Others think that by moving in the direction of dialogue, humanitarian aid and infrastructure support, the US will be propping up a failed dictatorship while not improving the lives of impoverished Cubans. We can’t be sure of that either.
But there is one certainty: anger, however righteous, and bitterness, however justified, over the decades’ long oppression of the Cuban people will never produce peace and happiness on either side of the Florida straits. Offering forgiveness, mercy and charity is the only certain path.
Susan Willsis a senior writer for Aleteia.org.