by Vaitiari Rodriguez
I vividly remember my grandfather saying that in Cuba, kids learned how to say “Fidel” and “Communism” before they could say mom or dad. Every time my family spoke about the government and politics they used to lower their voices and turn on the television, so none of the neighbors could listen to what they were saying. Speaking against the communist government was severely punished.
As a child, I did not understand the reason behind their actions. After all, the history books I read in my elementary school depicted the raven-bearded Fidel Castro and the Revolution as the saviors of Cuba. Later, I began to understand that the Cuban reality was far more complex: a puzzle in which universal health care and education contrast with sharp realities such us hunger, censorship, political persecution, and the widespread economic gap between the communist-military elite and ordinary Cubans.
I had always dreamed of being in a place where I would be able to engage in honest dialogue about the issues affecting my country and thought that I would find it in the United States. Yet, the views on the Castro regime in the U.S. are also extremely polarized. Traditional, right-wing Republicans resist any change in U.S.-Cuba relations as long as the Communist regime remains in power. The liberal extreme, often academics and intellectuals, praise the regime’s social welfare policies and argue that much of the criticism is simply leftover Cold War rhetoric.
Both sides have created their own version of Cuba, only partially based on fact. And their inability to realize that the truth is not found in absolute positions, but in compromising and learning from each other, has proven to be the biggest challenge for creating a nurturing environment to discuss the Cuban reality. The liberal extreme must open its eyes to the real face of the Cuban government: the arbitrary detentions and short-term imprisonments of political dissidents; the lack of freedom of expression; the racism and homophobia; the poverty of Cubans like my father, who as a doctor earns $30 a month and struggles to survive. Liberals in turn, can teach conservatives about the importance of creating avenues for dialogue based on nonviolent solutions. They can help conservatives understand that the best way to build bridges between the two countries is to allow Americans to visit Cuba and form their own opinions about the Communist government and that remittances, like those I send my father every month, are not subsidizing Castro’s regime, but allowing ordinary Cubans to put food on the table.
The right and the left must realize that their disagreements should be neither a competition about which side is right, nor the means to project their frustrations with the shortcomings of the American political system. Instead, I urge them to leave behind the bickering and the labels, liberal or conservative, Miami Cuban or California Cuban, and work together to create a free and Democratic Cuba. Most importantly, they must remember the big picture: it is not about them. It is about the 11 million Cubans just 90 miles off the coast of Florida who are waiting for change.
Vaitiari Rodriguez is a UC Berkeley Political Science undergraduate student.