… by gimleteye
From EYE ON MIAMI blog
I returned from Cuba yesterday to Miami, less than an hour and a world away. Although I am Anglo. I have lived in the shadow of Cuba for more than two decades.
In Miami, my experience of Cuba has been filtered through a career as a writer, an environmental leader and civic activist struggling against the values and political organization of Cuban American business interests, primarily tied to construction, development and sugar farmers who control politics in Miami and from that base, Florida, and from Florida, the nation.
What hasn’t changed, as a result of my week long cultural visit to the Havana Bienal, is my certainty that while the injuries and suffering of Cuban Americans who lost family, possessions, and their country during the revolution are real, the embargo against Cuba is a failure that serves no purpose.
Cubans know the embargo and its hardships have united their own state; defining hard-liners and moderates and serving to rationalize regional and superpower investments. But it is not fair to say that the embargo serves equal purposes in the United States and Cuba.
Since the late 1950s and the revolution and diaspora, the Florida economy has grown mightily. These decades created a class of Cuban American entrepreneurs and leaders whose power is rooted in Florida land speculation, the construction of suburbs and condominiums, and farmers using Everglades wetlands as their cesspits. Their control is vested through local zoning practices, transportation and national farming and environmental policies endorsed by Congress and the White House irrespective of party control.
Cuba, meanwhile, is a time capsule rooted in the 1950’s. Its significant achievements in universal health care and education are deservedly a matter of national pride. But nowhere on earth has a society been so deeply framed by economic strangulation. Perversely, what the embargo has accomplished is to save Havana (the only part of the nation, I visited on this trip) from Miami-style destruction.
Havana is in an exquisite state of decaying preservation; an oxymoron that also describes the embargo. Equisitely decaying yet existing in its own decay.
In Havana, rainstorms are claiming 18th and 19th century structures that are unfortified against the elements. At the same time as 1950’s era Detroit-made vehicles carry the city on their millionth mile, neighborhoods and houses built in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s exist as testament to entrepreneurial spirit, corruption, life, love and ideological blindness. It is all captured in Havana and suppressed in Miami.
Last week I wrote that the bandwidth for political dialogue is wider in Havana than it is in Miami. Cubans understand perfectly that Hialeah politics are organized around Castro as enemy and villain. They also understand how socialist politics uses Miami as its own bulwark. But in depth, Cubans have their own worries. They may not understand all the ulterior motives: how in the US the revenge motives against Castro empower those whose real purpose is to make money here — millions and billions — by wrecking environmental rules and regulations, controlling building and zoning that might otherwise inhibit platted subdivisions in West and South Miami Dade or restrict water pollution and mercury contamination pouring out of sugar lands south of Lake Okeechobee.
The economic crisis in the United States has not served to open public discourse on these matters. To the contrary, the crisis — in part fomented by the local gears of the Growth Machine well documented on this blog — has served to contract public discussion. Newspapers and television have been crippled by debt and fail the public interest test time and again. Miami voters keep re-electing the same incumbent county and city commissioners based on the litmus test of their virulence against Castro.
Meanwhile, Cubans are engaged in uninhibited discussions around the questions of what happens next. Everything has changed around Cuba — China, Brazil, Latin and South America — and Cuba is finally taking tentative, selective steps to open its economy to change. While the pieces are not in place to make large scale, private investment possible — the small and limited efforts are yielding visible results that should encourage bolder action by a new generation of leaders.
What members of Congress need to understand is that the embargo is now a ridiculous farce. In the 1960’s it served to isolate a nation that had decided to accept a fire hose of economic aid from the Soviet Union. For a time, that assistance allowed an ideology to be artificially supported with no real economic growth.
Today, remittances from Cuban Americans — the majority, from the Miami area — are allowing Cuban entrepreneurs to by-pass the embargo. Small farmers, restaurant owners, and now — private homeowners and car owners, too — represent an army of embargo busters. Cuban Americans have destroyed the embargo on a small scale, while depriving American businesses of the chance to participate in the gradual opening of an economy poised to explode at a time when the domestic US economy, and in Florida particularly, is dependent on the kindness of strangers; foreign investors willing to pick up the slack of crushed housing markets.
One of the most interesting conversations I had was on the return flight to Miami with a Cuban American — I never got his name — who had just completed a visit to relatives in Cuba. He could only spend a weekend there because he had to return to work, Monday. I asked him, could the embargo ever work? He said, yes but that you would have to cut off everything. What he meant, was that the tens of thousands of lifelines extended through Cuban Americans to families in Cuba would have to be shut down.
In this way, the embargo would drive Cuba beyond the point of hunger to Eritrean-style deprivation. He said, Cuban Americans would in effect be condemning own relatives who have managed a margin of relative comfort, even wealth, through remittances.
My fellow traveler said: the embargo cannot be effective unless it drives their own families to ruin. Is that what Lincoln Diaz Balart and Ileana Ros Lehtinen and various Miami-Dade county commissioners and other aspiring Florida politicians want? Or do they just want to be re-elected? Havana knows the answer.
Miami — and the nation, by extension — shouts in an echo chamber on Cuba. It is clear Cuba will choose its own course, forward. Whatever hybrid emerges will not be dictated by Hialeah politics. the Latin Builders Association or its megaphones. US foreign policy to Cuba and the embargo have outgrown the purpose of Miami elections. Even Cuban American business leaders who reaped all the bitterness but none of the rewards — unless under-the-table violations of the embargo — must realize change is at hand if only they will listen.