A common joke among Cubans in Miami revolves around a pair of tortoises which were given to Fidel Castro for his 75th birthday. El jefe inquires as to the life expectancy of tortoises. An aid informs Castro that they have been known to live in excess of 150 years, to which Castro responds: “That’s the trouble with pets. You become attached to them and then they die on you.”
For the past 45 years, I, along with the rest of the Miami Cuban community, have been reading Castro’s premature obituary. Ironically, Castro has now outlived most of his opponents, even those who were younger than him. In fact, it appears that the whole foreign policy of the United States government is to wait until Fidel dies.
The major bond that appears to hold the Miami Cuban community together, contributing to the definition of its cultural identity, is a mutual hatred for this one man. Hating Fidel Castro is as natural as loving one’s children.
It can be argued that this hatred can take on religious significance, a spiritual battle between the children of darkness (those Cubans who support the personification of evil–Castro) and the children of light (those calling for Castro’s death).
This hatred has found political expression through the Cuban American National Foundation, the most powerful Exilic Cuban lobbying organization in the U.S.
Exilic Cubans are able to morally justify the exercise of their power over the Resident Cuban community on the island through the support of the U.S. embargo. The embargo against Cuba, redrafted and maintained through the efforts of CANF, becomes an example of disciplinary technology on a global scale.
The embargo is a controlled space that represents a standardized action persisting over a period of time. It normalizes the “New World Order” by punishing those who refuse to obey.
Initially, policy planners for the Eisenhower and Kennedy administration supported an embargo based on the hopes that the hardship caused would foment internal dissent leading to the downfall of Castro. Ironically, the embargo strengthened Cuban nationalism against the U.S., which has historically been seen as the aggressor.
Additionally, Castro was provided a scapegoat for the economic woes of the country.
The embargo presupposes the hierarchical power to gaze: a gaze that comes from the U.S. center allowing Exilic Cubans in Miami to qualify, classify and punish Resident Cubans for not overthrowing Castro. The attempt to exercise discipline over Cuba presupposes a mechanism that coerces by means of observation. Once the U.S., as the perfect eye, “sees” Cuba conforming, then the embargo would be loosened or lifted.
Ironically, the U.S. does not take similar stances with other one-party communist regimes, specifically China, North Korea or Vietnam. Engagement with these countries is based on the philosophy that they can be brought closer to democratic ideals through free trade. Commerce becomes the way by which greater political freedoms are established. Yet, when it comes to Cuba, the opposite is advocated as true.
Cuba’s refusal to conform to the U.S. gaze translates as suffering for Cubans on the island. Yet, the victims of this institutionalized violence are labeled by the Exilic Cubans as the cause of the violence.
CANF publications concerning the cause of the Resident Cuban suffering shifts blame from the victimizer to the victims: “The argument that [the United States embargo is responsible for the deprivation and suffering of the Resident Cubans] confuses the cure with the curse. Castro’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge the failure of his totalitarian regime and to relinquish his absolute control by allowing the introduction of basic political and economic freedoms remains the root cause of the Cuban people’s suffering.”
Meanwhile, the gaze creates on the island a “siege mentality,” justifying their own internal acts of oppression. When asked about a lack of freedom and political repression in Cuba, then-first deputy minister, Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, chief of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. explained that the Revolution has little choice but to defend itself.
When the most powerful nation in the world has consistently attempted to undermine Cuba’s form of government, either openly on the world stage or covertly via the CIA, the Revolution has no choice but to respond by restricting the threat of counter-revolutionary activities which in turn curtails civil liberties.
Additionally, because “the Exile,” through the words and actions, spends a large portion of its energy trying to eliminate Castro and bring the Revolution to an end, the Revolution sees it own actions as a form of self-defense needed to protect itself. A connection has been made with the bombs that exploded in la Habana and brought death to tourists with Miami Cubans. Whether these connections are real or perceived makes little difference in a society operating from a “siege mentality.”
The struggle for Cuba insists that the U.S. be placed in the position of observation so that it can mete out punishment for the moral violations of Cuba. Yet, while Exilic and Resident Cubans struggle with each other, the United States is likely positioning itself eventually to reimpose its hegemony. The U.S. has promised to “rebuild” Cuba, ensuring that any post-Castro government would sacrifice its sovereignty.
Such a future could create a hierarchical community dominated by those dedicated to the economic concerns of the U.S. business elite. During the late 1980s and 1990s, different types of businesses held seminars for Exilic Cubans on the economic projections of a post-Castro Cuba.
After all, who is better than Exilic Cubans to take advantage of the island’s economic potential? Proposed horizontal oppression amongst Cubans is thus masked by national identity discourse and patriotism–patriotism at a profit.
As the U.S. presidential race moves past yesterday’s primary in the State of Florida (credited in the 2000 election for giving Bush the final victory in part through the support of Miami Cubans), we can only hope that a productive conversation concerning Cuba can take place, a conversation which moves beyond just waiting for Castro to die.
Miguel De La Torre, a Cuban American, is professor of theologies of liberation at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a former Baptist pastor in Kentucky. His column also appears in the Holland Sentinel.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.