Thursday, April 16, 2009

Obama's embargo policy hurts black Cubans

By DeWayne Wickham

The Obama administration’s decision to ease the U.S. embargo restrictions on travel and the transfer of money to Cuba must have seemed like a smart political move to the presidential advisers who fashioned this policy change.

It gave Cuban Americans what a majority of them want: greater freedom to return to their ancestral home and to send unlimited amounts of money to relatives in Cuba. And coming as it did just days before Barack Obama was to meet with the leaders of 33 Latin American nations, it eased some of the pressure on the president, who during his White House campaign promised to dramatically change the way this country engages its enemies.

Cuba has been on America’s enemies list for nearly half a century. The aging U.S. embargo was meant to strangle the economic life out of that nation and topple its communist regime. On both counts, the embargo has been a dismal failure. It has succeeded only in sharply diminishing American influence in Cuba and in straining this country’s relations with virtually every other nation in this hemisphere.

As a geopolitical move, what the Obama administration did to relax the embargo was a good first step. It does not, however, address a peculiarity of the current island divide that the U.S. played no small role in creating.

During the four-year U.S. occupation of Cuba (1898 – 1902) following the end of the Spanish-American War, the American government demanded racial segregation of Cuba’s army and imposed Jim Crow practices throughout Cuban society. Those racist practices led to the massacre of nearly 6,000 blacks in May 1912, members of a political party that agitated for an end to racial discrimination.

Little changed for black Cubans until Fidel Castro came to power and gave them a bigger role in the life of the country. In turn, they became the core of his support – and the least likely to join the Cuban exile community in South Florida.

But as a humanitarian move, it is a weak gesture. Why? The vast majority of Cubans who have moved to the United States are white. While that country’s government reports people of African descent make up just 35 percent of Cuba’s 11 million people, many Cuban scholars say that nearly 70 percent of the population is black or mullato.

Allowing only Cuban Americans to send money to their relatives in Cuba reinforces a racial stratification that is deeply rooted in policies forced upon Cuba over a century ago.

“Supporting the Cuban people’s desire to freely determine their future and that of their country is in the national interest of the United States,” the Obama administration said in a statement released by the White House when the relaxation of restrictions on travel and money transfers was announced. But the Obama policy inadvertently discriminates against the majority of Cubans – who like him – are of African descent.

To ease this problem, the president should permit all Americans – not just Cuban Americans – to travel to Cuban, and allow anyone in this country to give financial help to anyone in Cuba. This will open the way for black churches and others in America’s black communities to aid black Cubans, who are now isolated from such help by the embargo rules.

The Obama administration is right to try to strengthen contacts and “good will” between the Cuban and American people. Such bridge building holds out a greater potential for change on that island than the Cold War era embargo that remains in place.

But this outreach must not be blind to the painful realities of Cuba’s racial division – a divide that the United States had a hand in creating.

1 comment:

MilagrosVillamil Esq.RN said...

This is correct, i am here in Cuba where i will be for the next 90 days. i have a huge family here some older some young and they all hav literally begged me to return for good.
Dewayne, i have planned to do just that, and sooner than later.

As i walk the streets of Havana(i am from Matanzas) undoubtedly much has changed from my last visit in 2007. Suffice that, more than the new hotels tourists and beach fronts have changed as well.

i was 14 when El Che and Fidel took power 1/8/59. My own father was with him in both 53 and 59 and although my father is now deceased i have several uncles and family members who were also freedom fighters in th Sierra with Fidel et/al

I have spent 2 weeks here, and have traveled to every province some renamed since my childhood and i can see that much work is needed but much has been done.
However Dewayne, there is a consensus amongst many of the elders that they would rather hold out as is than suffer another Batista type regiem or be colonized like Puerto Rico.

My aunt spoke to me about those yrs when i was about 5-6 in the early 50's when she was a dancer with los Munequitos de Matanza (my family) and she discussed the drugs, mafia, gambling and prostitution and how many of her friends were tricked into leaving for the US and sold into prostitution..
Today as a retired atty and RN i can see that much needs to be done although, i like all family will continue to be supportive of the Castro Adm..after all they are the ones who made life easier for millions..but times have changed and a new deal must be made.

Do i want to see a democratically run Cuba? Not sure however, if having a democratically run Cuba means more food vs the rule of law i say NO! back to the drawing board.
Cuba is a sovereign nation and we have the right to be free of US policy and control..Enuff of the insanity..Obama, would do well to leave the flattery at home and come and meet Fidel like a man

Without a country