Just like the diversity of opinions within Cuba, the exile community is not monolithic and enjoys a great amount of varying point of views. Some favor policies that focus on isolating Cuba and denying it resources, while others favor breaking Cuba’s isolation and focusing instead on helping the Cuban people. This is the beauty of our democratic and pluralistic society. But I realize that not everyone shares my optimism. Some spend more time attacking other’s positions and labeling them on one extreme “dialoguers” and “Castro-lovers,” or whatever slander they feel can discredit their opponents. After all it is easier to attack people than to debate the merit of their ideas or, God forbid, acknowledge they may have a point.

But there is a problem, as I see it, with those who try to defend the status quo in U.S. policy toward Cuba: their position lacks popular support inside Cuba. I have noticed that many of those who advocate for maintaining the current U.S. policy have not visited the island in 50 years, or never been to Cuba at all. Aware of this obvious contradiction, they often charge that they don’t need to go to Cuba to understand its reality; after all, they speak to people in the island regularly. I have no doubt that there are those inside Cuba with whom advocates for the status quo speak, who support the current U.S. policy toward Cuba. The problem however is the selective sampling that inevitably happens when you refuse to visit the island and instead only listen to those with whom you agree. If our goal is to help the Cuban people, shouldn’t we care about what the majority of Cubans think?

Perhaps the best example of this fact is the current debate over a bill in Congress that would lift the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba. While supporters of the status quo focus on labeling advocates of the bill as “those enamored with the Cuban government,” an overwhelming majority of Cuban dissidents and the Cuban people support the measure. In a letter to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez wrote: ““Cuban citizens, for our part, would benefit from the injection of material resources and money that these tourists from the north would spend in alternative services networks. Without a doubt, economic autonomy would then result in ideological and political autonomy, in real empowerment. These statements can be added to many others by leading opposition figures like Oswald Paya, Hector Palacios, Vladimiro Roca, Miriam Leiva, Dagoberto Valdes, Gisela Palacios, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, and others including Marta Beatriz Roque who stated: ““I think everyone should have the freedom to travel, which is something that the Cuban people lack. So if we’re fighting here for democracy, how can we try to restrict the freedom of the American people?” It seems the problem with trying to advocate for the status quo is that to do so you must mud the waters with personal attacks and extremist labels and hope nobody notices what the Cuban people are asking us to do.”

Another example is the current debate over a review of the U.S. government’s Cuba Democracy Programs. Advocates of the status quo charge that a U.S. government review of these programs to eliminate the waste, mismanagement and corruption that has plagued them in the past is tantamount to: “Collusion with Cuba’s laws.” Inconveniently for them however, a March 27, 2010 article by the Miami Herald reported that Laura Pollan, leader of the Ladies in White stated that: “It is true that the opposition needs some help, but I also think that it is very important that [the aid] is reviewed, that there be an audit.” Of course Ms. Pollan’s statement along with other statements by other dissidents have gone ignored by advocates of the status quo.

But the fact that they choose to ignore the reality inside the island doesn’t mean that advocates of the status quo don’t care about Cuba or want it to be free in prosperous, it just means that they don’t understand the reality inside the island. Recent charges that President Obama’s “overtures toward the Cuban regime have failed,” suggests that they don’t understand the goal of current U.S. policy toward the island either. At the same time they tout the sharp increase of activity in civil society activity in Cuba, they condemn a policy that has done more to break Cuba’s isolation and to empower civil society in one year with family travel than a policy of confrontation and isolation ever has. In fact, Cuban dissidents argue that allowing all Americans to travel to Cuba would only further empower civil society on the island. Would advocates of the status quo then suggest that Cuba’s dissidents are “dialoguers” and “Castro-lovers” who “collude with Cuban laws”? How about human rights and democracy organization such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Freedom House and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops?

The good news is that advocates of the status quo in U.S. policy toward Cuba are an ever-shrinking group. Our community understands the need for a new approach, and even if some acknowledge that “many of those who oppose the regime admit, albeit quietly, that the embargo has not worked,” others have been much clearer in the need for change, not just in Havana but in Miami and Washington as well. A recent article submitted to the Miami Herald by prominent Cuban-American business and community leader Sergio Pino put it perfectly: ““It is time to rethink our strategy. With three Cuban-American members of Congress, and one in the Senate, and many well-meaning Cuban-American leaders of hundreds of different political organizations in exile, it is time for one of them to come forward and unite us behind a new and more effective approach that focuses on the Cuban people first.”   

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