We can expect new President Obama to lift the absurd ban on Cuba, or at least make the attempt through Congress. He will surely allow Americans to fly to that abused island and bring some relief from the oppressive communist regime. The island “celebrated” 50 years of Fidel’s take over without fanfare from the bulk of the population. Their economic and political conditions have remained fixed in time during that half century as if a gigantic time machine had remained stuck in 1959.
While nobody in Cuba dies of hunger and almost everybody can read and write (their literacy rate is among the highest in the world), one can readily ask “what for?” There is no freedom of any kind except to laud the virtues of the great leader, or, as it is called in another dictatorship, our Beloved Great Leader (North Korea). Cuba and North Korea are two examples of massive brainwashing, although much more so in China’s neighbor. Cuba has the “luck” of having the United States next door, and the superpower’s influence, in spite of the blockade, has been the difference among the population. Cubans still retain some contact with the mainland, whether clandestinely or openly through American family members.
While working in Mexico, I had the chance to talk to Cubans living in that country; some had to return to the island, while others had migrated permanently. Understandably, because all had family living under the Castro regime, their comments were made “off the record”. A surgeon told me that her monthly salary was the equivalent of $ 30, but she added that everybody received free education (considered one of the best the world), and that the food was heavily subsidized, as was rent (no private property allowed), and health care. I could nevertheless perceive an undertone of profound dissatisfaction in their comments regarding the total absence of freedoms and choices. The surgeon talked about the first time she entered a supermarket in Monterrey, Mexico; her eyes widened with shock. She had never seen so many goods and so many choices on the shelves.
Very few Cubans have their own landline phone (9%) and even less have a cell phone (1%). Although many have televisions (70%), who wants to listen to Fidel’s endless tirades (he loved to listen to himself when he was still in control) of up to 3 hours? Who wants to watch the official government’s propaganda machine? Only a few revolutionary diehards still support the communist regime and the “exalted” memory of the Che Guevara, a psychotic physician who shot anybody who disagreed with him.
China, the giant communist regime, had the wisdom to transform its totalitarian dogmas to allow some token of capitalistic market. It is now well on its way to become an economic and military superpower. Cuba is only beginning to understand, under Fidel’s brother’s control, that people have an innate drive to own something. Raul Castro has even invited the Cuban people to voice their criticism of the government, a step that received very little response as people doubt seriously that the regime would actually act upon the recommendations.
The lack of opportunities in Cuba is particularly hard on youth. The island has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Again, what’s the point of having free education all the way to college if the government tells you what to study and if there are no outlets for your skills? The word apathetic is the adjective most commonly heard when speaking of young Cubans. In spite of occasional desertions among athletic teams who travel to other countries, most young Cubans do not want to abandon their island. What they want is more freedom to come and go as they please and to have the chance to voice their concerns.
President Obama has already expressed his desire to initiate negotiations with the Cuban government. He should ignore the extreme faction of Cuban-Americans from Miami who want no contact with the Caribbean island. The ridiculous blockade should be eliminated for two important reasons: Cubans already receive American goods through third parties (European countries), and an open trade with Cuba would be the best way to topple that odious dictatorship.