Hey, how you doing?
What's new? Been to Cuba lately?
Oh, that's right, you're only a U.S. citizen; you can't.
You can't. How stupid is that?
I guess they worry you'll catch communism or something. But you know what? Canadians and Europeans go there all the time without catching ... well, I guess Tea Party types say they're already socialists, so ... But hey, that's what they say about Obama.
But really, I ask you, what's the big deal? I went to Cuba some years back and I didn't come back a commie, though some on Fox might argue the point.
Our group had the required dispensation for researching Cuban medical and educational needs. And the trip was very interesting. We saw some extraordinary things, learned a lot about the country, the people and the government. We saw that education is free and they encourage -- and pay for -- people to become doctors. As a result, Cubans have free medical care and the government provides doctors to other countries. In fact they offered to send a group of physicians here to help out after Katrina. But I guess Mr. Bush and company didn't like the idea of free medical care.
Mr. Obama seems inclined to change things a bit, but our decades-old embargo continues to do harm -- as much to us as to them, one could argue. And the politics that drive it are truly absurd. We have relationships with Vietnam and China, for God's sake, so why do we let a group of diehard right-wing Cuban émigrés in Miami and their acolytes in Congress wave their tattered anti-communist banner and frighten us away from a productive relationship with another baseball-loving Caribbean island?
This anti-Castro obsession has led us down a rocky road for decades: a bungled invasion; illegal, embarrassing assassination attempts; nearly a nuclear war; the harboring of terrorists on our own shores; and decades of lies and hypocrisy.
It's nuts. And it continues. Two recent examples of the utter stupidity of our ongoing cold war against Cuba include the operetta involving an actual terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, and the dark tragedy of the Cuban Five, who are not.
Posada Carilles, who once told the New York Times, "I sleep like a baby," is, according to evidence known by our government, a CIA asset responsible for an ongoing terror campaign against Cuba, including the bombing of an airliner that cost 73 lives. Months after his publicly celebrated move to the U.S. in 2005, Posada Carriles was finally charged by the Bush Administration, not with terrorism but fraudulent entry.
The ante was raised a bit by the Obama Justice Dept. in 2009, adding perjury charges (again not terrorism) for statements he made under oath relating to hotel bombings. But after he was finally brought to trial three months ago in federal court in El Paso, Texas, under a Bush-appointed judge who, according to one report, "simply turned the floor over to the defense attorney," Posada Carriles was acquitted of all charges and is now free to enjoy life in Miami, where anti-Castro zealots cheer him as a hero.
Compare that outrage to this one:
Because of decades of attacks against Cuba by U.S.-based anti-Castro organizations like CORU, the F4 Commandos, Brothers to the Rescue, Omega 7 and Alpha 66, which Cuba reported 10 years ago had cost thousands of lives and great damage (including hotel bombings connected to Luis Posada Carriles), five Cuban intelligence officers were sent to the U.S. to gather information about these groups in an attempt to blunt their effectiveness.
The five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo, Antonio Guerrero Rodriguez, Ramón Labañino Salazar, Fernando González Llort and René González Sehwerert, not only succeeded in doing so, but sent home information on the activities of the groups that the Cuban government then made known (as if it was news) to U.S. authorities.
Agents of the FBI went to Cuba in 1998 to receive the information gathered by the five, returning with reams of evidence of terrorism committed by U.S.-based groups. However, instead of acting against them, the FBI, having discerned the identities of the five, arrested them instead, hoping to charge them with espionage.
But, because all they had done was infiltrate, observe and report on the groups committing terror against Cuba, the U.S. was unable to prove the five had done anything illegal other than being unregistered agents of a foreign power. So, Bush's Justice Dept. retrenched and charged them with "conspiracy" to commit espionage and "conspiracy" to commit murder (because the Cuban Air Force shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes after a mission over Cuba).
Refused a change of venue, the men, now known as the Cuban Five, were convicted in a Miami court (!) and sentenced to long terms in prison (Gerardo Hernández Nordelo receiving two life sentences on the conspiracy to commit murder charge).
With their sentences overturned on appeal (a three-judge panel citing "prejudice" in Miami), reinstated and subsequently refused review, the Cuban Five have now served 12 years in American prisons for protecting their country from U.S.-based terrorism.
An international effort calling for freedom and fairness for the Cuban Five has grown up around the case. It includes Amnesty International, 10 Nobel Laureates, Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002, and many others. Former President Jimmy Carter added his voice after a recent trip to Cuba, saying,
I believe that there is no reason to keep the Cuban Five imprisoned; there were doubts in the U.S. courts and also among human rights organizations ... Now, they have been in prison 12 years and I hope that in the near future they will be released to return home.
So do I. In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of a group of Actors and Artists United for the Freedom of the Cuban Five. For more information, www.thecuban5.org.