In Cuba, time for some really new ideas

August 1, 2007

Miami Herald- Ana Menendez

Anniversaries -- with their leaden feet in the past -- are lifeless things, and their celebration is usually best left to children and romantics.

But this anniversary offers a rare chance to look forward, a difficult exercise for a nation that has made a fetish of history, but one we cannot afford to pass up.

On July 31, 2006, Fidel Castro, for the first time, stepped aside and ceded power to his brother Raúl. It was the beginning of the end, even if it came in a way both unpredictable and anticlimatic.

A year later, a sick Castro still looms over Cuban politics, but his continuing presence should not obscure the fact that things are already changing on the island. The pace and scope of that change depend foremost on Cuba and its leaders, who still rule absolutely. But its outcome also will depend on us here in Miami and our willingness to let go of the dusty language and habits of nostalgia.


Monday, Cuba's old sugar and cattle barons took out an ad in The Miami Herald, harking back to the glorious constitution of 1940. I have often praised that constitution, a model of liberal democracy. But we can't forget that it was a short-lived one -- almost immediately suspended by Fulgencio Batista after his coup. Cuba has produced wonderful poets and thinkers; unfortunately it has shown equal talent for nurturing horrendous political leaders. Fidel Castro didn't come from outer space; he came out of a tradition of caudillos and violence.

Miami is awash in post-Castro studies. Enough plans, predictions and outright fantasies have been written to fell a small forest. All of it is worthless until we examine the roots of our misery: a tragic inability to find common ground.

Fidel Castro proved a willing student of the rigid, uncompromising school. Raúl, who arguably has more blood on his hands, seems willing to relax the rhetoric. Even if the impulse is born more out of practical considerations than a sudden attack of benevolence, it's worth paying close attention.

'To have more we have to begin producing more,' The New York Times quoted him as saying on the anniversary of the Moncada assault.

Radical stuff. Are we listening?


Of all the proposals to emerge in the last year, one of the best is a small, modest paper put out by the Cuba Study Group in September 2006.

It begins with a bold statement: ``Because this proposal lacks the input and participation of knowledgeable individuals residing within Cuba, it is inherently flawed and lacking a most fundamental perspective.'

A study on Cuba that begins by acknowledging the need for input by the Cuban people? It's radically refreshing. Victims have a right to their pain. But a humane policy needs to be built on more than a catalog of grievances, and the Cuba Study Group's plan acknowledges this.

Though limited in range -- just 10 pages -- the paper makes several observations before going on to propose a simple first step to a true transition: micro-loans directly to the Cuban people. ``In the end, we believe that Cuba's future hinges on unleashing the human capital of the individual.'

Of course, it can't happen without the Cuban government. A micro-lending program can be started through the Mexican Banco Compartamos. But first Cuban law must change to allow that kind of assistance. If Cuba's leaders can finally get past their paranoia and allow the future to take shape, it will be evidence they truly care for the ordinary Cuban people. If we can get past ours, it will show we do too.

News Center

Date Title
8/31/07 Lawmakers push a united, hard-line front on Cuba
8/30/07 Cuba publishes new work by Castro
8/29/07 Castro essay criticizes U.S. presidential hopefuls
8/27/07 Castro signs political essay, sidesteps health questions
8/27/07 Killings spotlight Cuban migration via Mexico
8/24/07 Castro rumors circulating -- again -- Friday
8/24/07 Anti-corruption laws toughened in Cuba
8/24/07 Fidel Castro stays silent on health, but not U.S.
8/23/07 Cuba blasts Hungary for granting migrants asylum
8/22/07 Candidates bring Cuba into race
8/22/07 Green cards now easier for Cubans born abroad
8/21/07 Obama to talk on Cuba issues
8/15/07 Dem leaders struggle for votes to change Cuba policies
8/15/07 Multan a Travelocity por gestionar viajes a Cuba
8/15/07 Travelocity fined $183,000 for booking trips to Cuba
8/14/07 At 81 or 80, Castro still a no-show for his birthday party
8/13/07 Freed dissident tells of abuses, torment of 13 years in `hell'
8/13/07 Fireworks mark Castro's 81st birthday
8/13/07 Freed Cuban dissident seeks surgery in U.S.
8/10/07 2 Cuban migrants quit Gitmo hunger strike
8/9/07 Bishop says spirituality richer in Cuba
8/9/07 Castro might not let boxers travel overseas
8/9/07 Cuban boxers' repatriation criticized
8/8/07 Protest planned of Cubans' treatment at Guantanamo
8/7/07 Vague comments made about Fidel Castro's health
8/7/07 Signs of change in Cuba
8/5/07 Exigen una pronta democracia en Cuba
8/5/07 Police return missing boxers to Cuba
8/4/07 Exiles announce economic initiative
8/3/07 Cuban-American group proposes fund to help private enterprise in Cuba
8/2/07 Conceptual change
8/2/07 Custody fight over girl a lot like Elián feud
8/2/07 Exiles say civil resistance a success
8/2/07 More Cubans go through Mexico
8/2/07 Chávez-Castro friendship pumps billions into Cuba
8/1/07 Current Record
8/1/07 Cuba buys seed potatoes from US growers
8/1/07 Cubans wage their own Gitmo hunger strike
8/1/07 Castro marks first year on sidelines