Obsessed with Fidel and RaulDefenders of the status quo in U.S. policy toward Cuba charge that advocates for more effective policies are obsessed with “conducting business with the island’s totalitarian, repressive regime.” This is an interesting claim for two fundamental reasons: First, the fact that those who have worked so hard to keep a failed policy in place for over 50 years with the exclusive focus of hurting the Castro brothers would accuse others of being “obsessed.” Secondly, the allegation that those whose opinions are opposed their own are only interested in profiting from a commercial relationship with the regime.

Like an unfaithful spouse who accuses his wife of infidelity in order to masquerade his own indiscretions, defenders of the status quo accuse advocates of a change in U.S. policy toward Cuba of being “obsessed” with profiting from a commercial relationship with the regime in order to deflect attention from their own obsession with hurting the Castro brothers This exclusive focus directed a hurting the Castro brothers has come at a great cost for the Cuban people. Not only has this obsession been levied on the shoulders of the Cuban people who have suffered the effects of additional isolation and economic hardship, but it has also delayed the necessary process of change, in effect prolonging the Castro dictatorship and the suffering of the Cuban people. While placing the blame for the suffering of the Cuban people solely on the regime’s failed policies may help defenders of the status quo to clear their conscious, it ignores the fact that, while the regime’s failed policies are mainly to blame for the suffering of the Cuban people, U.S. sanctions and isolation no doubt contribute. 

Defenders of the status quo are right about one thing though; many of us who advocate for changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba are obsessed with something, we are obsessed with the Cuban people. As difficult as it may be for them to comprehend, our focus is not on the Castro brothers. As Yoani Sanchez points out in an August 5, 2010 editorial in the Washington Post: “Although he is once again in the news, it has been confirmed: Fidel Castro, fortunately, will never return,” a point Ms. Sanchez has made in several past articles: that Fidel is simply a part of Cuba’s past. Rather than obsess with Cuba’s past, some of us choose to concentrate on what we can do today to help the Cuban people. Our focus is not in hurting the Castro brothers, but in helping the Cuban people. We share the belief of a growing majority of Cuban democracy advocates on the island that U.S. policy, far from hastening a transition to democracy on the island, has actually contributed to the isolation of the Cuban people and delayed necessary processes of change.

The allegations that the intention of advocates of change in U.S. policy toward Cuba  is to benefit economically, is puzzling given how much they have benefited from the millions in U.S. democracy funds they have steered their way over the years. While many of organizations receiving these funds have worked to advance the cause of freedom in Cuba, many have done so while representing the interests of advocates of the status quo, a virtual lobbying arm paid for with taxpayer’s dollars. For almost 20 years, advocates of the status quo have benefited economically from the policies they have promoted. It is no wonder then that they fight so vehemently to maintain the status quo in the U.S. and on the island, as they, just like their counterparts in the Cuban government, risk loosing the most from change.

It is time that U.S. policy toward Cuba obsessed, not with hurting the Cuban regime, but with helping the Cuban people. If, in the process of helping the Cuban people our policies hurt the Cuban regime, then all the better, but this should not be the focus of our policy. Likewise, if in the process of hurting the Cuban regime, our policies have a negative collateral effect on the Cuban people, then we should not do so. If the goal of U.S. policy is to empower the Cuban people in order to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy on the island, then our focus of our policy should be on helping the Cuban people, not in hurting the Cuban regime. 

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