The recent death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s long-serving dictator, has been met with great optimism and skepticism as diplomatic relations with America continue to unfold. His legacy that spanned some 60 years and 11 American Presidents now remains in the history books. Arguably one of the most important political figure to emerge in Latin America, his ideas of socialism and one-party Communist rule became the core of his regime and the obstacle of many American Presidents and their policies. How we approach the new Cuba minus the leadership, charisma, and determination of Fidel remains to be seen but like many of our foreign policies, it must be done in a humane and philosophical way that represents the true America. As America addresses issues including the erasure of trade embargoes, the lifting of travel restrictions, and the improvement of relations with the Caribbean island and the rest of Latin America, we must be conscious on the effects on society. Despite positive diplomatic protocol, the implications of how these relationships will affect ever-evolving Cuba, Latin America, its impact on American political process and our society as a whole remain pertinent and indicative of our foreign policy.
Prior to President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the United States’ shared a volatile relationship with Latin America. Before Fidel Castro’s rise in Cuba, presidential administrations supported military dictators that promoted outright human rights abuses in many Latin American countries. In fact, Vice-President Richard Nixon once praised Cuba’s dictator Batista ― a leader that denied much of Cuba’s population democracy, human rights, and economic prosperity ― as “Cuba’s Abraham Lincoln.” President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy with Latin America, often termed the “Alliance for Progress,” aimed at promoting economic needs, human rights, and democracy in Latin America. President Kennedy, himself, referred to this policy as “Latin America’s Marshall Plan.” Kennedy’s plan resulted in economic backlash, though. Cuba, along with many Latin American countries that sided with Castro’s anti-American imperialism policies, found themselves politically, economically, and culturally isolated from the famed fallout that took place in 1961. Relations further deteriorated with Cuba and Latin America after Kennedy’s failed policies in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States’ political and military involvement in Cuba and several Latin American countries has been met with hatred, distrust, and vengeance.
Fast forward 60 years to 2017, and new U.S.-Cuba relations not only mean ease of trade and travel, but, also, that the United States can improve its much needed relationships with Latin America. Cuba is now the gateway for America’s foreign policy in Latin America, and this new relationship dictates how we promote democracy, human rights, and freedom to our compatriots south of the border. What do the new U.S.-Cuba relations mean for many of us who live in this great country? Well, this new relationship is beyond removing much of the failed trade embargo policies that formerly defined our relationship with the Caribbean nation and much of Latin America. The 21st century has brought immense changes in America, none more important than the “Browning of America” and the continuous reshaping of America through Latin American immigration. In fact, according to the Census Bureau, almost one out of every five people in the United States in 2015 straddled the ethnicity of Latin/Hispanic. The Bureau also concluded that the majority of Hispanics in the United States are native born and that, of the 55 million people in 2014 who identified themselves as of Hispanic or Latino origin, 35 percent are immigrants from Latin America. Thus, what does that entail for a nation that will slowly but surely be Hispanicized in the next 30 years?
Beyond the importance of American foreign policy, U.S.-Cuba relations will enhance domestic relationships with Latinos that have been neglected throughout much of our nations’ history. President Obama’s shifting foreign policy with Cuba has more implications on America’s future than the mere importation of famed Cuban cigars and rum as our country becomes a new cosmopolitan-ethnic society ― a society where Latin Americans are the new political, social-economic, and cultural power house. These new relations enable us to have a more comprehensive understanding of the new Americans, their culture, heritage, political clout and the continued importance they will play in redefining the new 21st-century America. This new relationship with between the U.S.-Cuba and Latin America enables us to understand the rich, vibrant culture that will ultimately define America. Currently, our political debacle focuses on debates on immigration and the reshaping of the new America. The current influx of Latin American immigrants has left us to grapple with the notion of being an Immigrant nation. This debate has left the country divided about the best of what we are: a nation of immigrants. As our current flow of immigrants is overwhelmingly Latin American, not only will the new U.S.-Cuba relations allow us to secure our borders, it will, at the same time, allows us to address the current immigration debate in a more humane and sensitive way. The new relationship will allow us to have a more comprehensive knowledge of our immigration policies and the importance they present. Enhancing our rich, diverse culture with what Latin Americans bring to our country is the true American ideology of a melting pot.
In spite of the unquestioned greatness of new U.S.-Cuba relations, America has more to gain than meets the average eye. It would be impossible to conceive what America, Cuba, and Latin America would be without our mutual friendship. What would our nation be without their cultural, historical, and economic contributions? This new relationship is beyond the importation of the famed Cuban cigars and rum; the relations will ultimately build more bridges than walls, define our domestic and foreign policies with our compatriots, and enable us to understand the new ethnic America.
Stephen Balkaran is an Instructor in the Department of Philosophy at Central CT State University.