CUBA Si! Sony No!

I sit at my computer moving to the strains of Ibrahim Ferrer’s music, which is representative of a sound that thrives in Cuba. Ferrer performed with various musical groups including the Afro-Cuban All Stars, and came to international popularity when the film Buena Vista Social Club was released. I loved these rhythms and for years had wanted to dance to them in Cuba, but during the Bush years, when the film came out, it wasn’t so easy to go legally. My chance finally appeared when the Fourth International Conference on HIV/AIDS in Cuba, Central America, and the Caribbean was scheduled to take place in Havana in January, 2000. I did two things in preparation for the trip: I scheduled a workshop to facilitate while there, and I called my friend and colleague Jeremy Landau, who in addition to being an AIDS activist and a wonderful photographer, had been to Cuba several times. He organized the details of our trip.

I was 11 when the Cuban people began their struggle against their once-benevolent, American-supported, leader, Fulgencio Batista, who became despotic and much-despised as he began to be primarily interested in supporting the wealthiest class to the detriment of the working class and the poor. This created the appetite for change that led to the Cuban Revolution. Toward the end of 1958, rebels began to drive out Batista’s forces in the name of the people. On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, a romantic beauty, took over the country. 

Clearly, as has happened with so many revolutions, the liberators, in order to run their country, began to look for financial support from the United States. But the U.S. decided to continue supporting what were, at the time, its own financial interests. So, the new Cuban leaders turned to the Soviet Union, which had a better grasp of what the revolution had been about. These actions brought Communism and a new version of repression to the island, but it also garnered cheers of “Viva la Revolution!” I was one of those wooed by the romance of the story, and even when I understood what had happened there, the sense of romance stayed with me.

             Ibrahim Ferrar                                                                                             Che Guevara
Cuba! La Bella Isla; Jeremy G. Landau, Photography

Obama Greets Castro in South Africa
I have not been back to Cuba in all these years, but I took heart when I saw the photos of President Barack Obama as he greeted Cuban President, Raul Castro, before speaking at the memorial service for the late South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. President Obama delivered a moving tribute to the late South African leader, telling tens of thousands of South Africans packed into a soccer stadium in Johannesburg that Mandela was "the last great liberator of the 20th century." I have spent enough time in, and loving, South Africa to imagine that Nelson Mandela would have smiled at the thought that he brought these two leaders together to forge a new relationship between their nations. I can also imagine that Pope Francis gave it a smile—and more—and must be pleased that President Obama has, in a wonderful visionary display of wisdom linked with personal power, seen how important it is to both countries that we break a completely unsuccessful policy that has turned into a fifty-year-plus stalemate. Loving Cuba, having spent time with Cubans from many walks of life, and acquiring a real taste for Cuban cigars, I applaud President Obama for his courage to take this stand while knowing that the rabid right would go for his throat.  

Marco Rubio got right to it. He tried to sound eloquent but basically did the President a big favor by being semi-articulate and factually wrong, forcing him to revise a statement he made on Fox News: “Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we’ve had as president since at least Jimmy Carter.” Fox News must have told him that Jimmy Carter, among many other things: 
  • Negotiated the still-successful Camp David accords 
  • Led a coalition that reduced the incidence of Guinea worm disease from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to fewer than 148 today,
  • Observed 99 elections in 38 countries to help establish and strengthen democracies
  • Established a village-based volunteer healthcare delivery system in thousands of communities in Africa
  • Strengthened international standards for human rights and the voices of individuals defending those rights
  • Helped advance efforts to improve mental health care and diminish the stigma against people with mental illnesses.  
Rubio’s idiocy required him to change his tune and revise that line, simply calling Obama “the single worst negotiator we have had in the White House in my lifetime.” Clearly that’s untrue, since his lifetime includes Bush’s delusional war on Iraq and the lives lost for the sake of Republican vanity. But not to be outdone in the Obama-bashing adopted as the center of the campaigns being run by Republicans hopefuls to run in 2016, the even less articulate Ted Cruz gave it a try with, “One more very, very bad deal,” and “A tragic mistake,” which is what I consider the idea of Rubio, Cruz and others on the right who are very short on ideas, and very long on hate speech. 

What We Can Do:  
  1. Take some time to look up the history of the Cuban Revolution. While it’s not as romantic as I had thought when I was young, it’s a pretty great story.
  2. Look up the tyrant Batista, America’s favorite dictator at the time, to see what Cuba was like pre-revolution.
  3. Write to Ted Cruz: and Marco Rubio:, and tell them your version of suggesting that they need to get their facts straight and stop confusing their ambition, bigotry and lust for their own turn in the White House for truth. 
  4. Write to the President and thank him for taking the high road in Cuba rather than continuing to do things the way others have done it while expecting a different result.
  5. Give yourself a treat: as soon as you can, go to Cuba. It’s an amazing country filled with wonderful people.
  6. Add your voice to the 'comments' section below.

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