Standing in the way of change in Cuba

December 13, 2008

Tomas Bilbao, Cuba Study Group, Miami Herald

Eroding support for the U.S. embargo of Cuba and calls for a new approach have pushed supporters of our failed and outdated policies to redouble efforts to sell recycled arguments.

The argument goes that, because three Cuban-American representatives from South Florida were reelected to Congress, Cuban Americans support their hard-line views despite what polls show. This implies that voters only care about one issue: isolating Cuba. However, voters are more interested in the economy, job creation, healthcare and education.

The poll trends are real. They are backed by data with statistically relevant samples over a period of years during which various organizations, academic institutions and polling firms have arrived at the same conclusion: The exile community is changing.

It is not surprising that hard-liners refuse to accept this fact. They say the polls' true purpose is to divide the community. These charges also are favorites of hard-liners on the other side of the straits. They are threatened by challenges to their beliefs and launch character attacks against those who contradict them.

This is regrettable behavior, and the Cuban regime does not hold a monopoly on it. Hard-liners here demand respect for freedom of expression and democracy in Cuba as a condition for the lifting of U.S. sanctions, while they attack, attempt to intimidate and block government funding and access from those who dare think for themselves.

I do not doubt that these exiles want Cuba to be free. Just like those whom they criticize, they want Cubans to live more prosperous and free lives. Unfortunately, their actions and words delay the processes of change in Cuba and set the wrong example for our brothers and sisters on the island.

Change is coming to Cuba and to U.S. policy. A window of opportunity has opened on both sides of the straits. While it remains to be seen if Cuba's leaders will take advantage of it, U.S. policymakers have already expressed a willingness to move in a more-constructive direction. It is time for hard-liners in the United States and Cuba to decide whether they want to stand in the way of a better future for all Cubans by holding on to sacred cows and stubborn egos. Otherwise, they will accept what a majority of Cubans in both countries already know: The policies of the past 50 years have not worked, and solutions to big problems require bold steps, constrained egos and creative thinking. After all, Cuba will change only when Cubans on both sides are ready to embrace it.

TOMAS BILBAO, executive director, Cuba Study Group, Washington, D.C.

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12/13/08 Current Record