As befits the ripples derived from polarization and long-held political conflicts, the surprising news about the release of Alan Gross by the Government of Cuba, and of the three confessed Cuban spies by the U.S. government -- coupled with the simultaneous announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries -- has unleashed a wave of passion on both sides of the Florida Straits.
Some have catalogued it as a "victory for the dictatorship," others as "the betrayal of the democratic aspirations of Cuba and of the U.S. global leadership," and there have been some who consider a "moral crime" what they term the exchange of people unjustly imprisoned in Cuba and three criminals who caused deaths and the mourning of Cuban families.
In all conflicts, each party is partially right, but when we talk about such significant historical events as the radical turnaround in the U.S.-Cuba relations after a 50-year dispute, it is necessary to set aside the passions and calmly analyze the new scenario in order to extract the greatest possible benefits.
On the other hand, we should not perceive as a loss the release of an arbitrarily imprisoned American citizen, who was also used as a hostage by the Cuban dictatorship, as were an important group of political prisoners. All of them have now succeeded in reuniting with their families and moved on with their lives. If this is Raúl Castro's supposed "victory," I would call it a Pyrrhic victory.
But, in any case, with the liberation of both Alan Gross and the three vassals of the Castros' fiefdom, those issues have been exhausted. What is really important is that the Gordian knot that maintained the stagnation and confrontation has been broken, and now we might want to exploit this window of opportunity, rather than continue with lamentations and catharsis that do not lead anywhere at all. It is about the old adage of the half-empty or half-full glass, so to speak. I choose to see it half full and to do whatever possible to fill it to the very brim.
Let's say, for instance that, going forward, no one will be able to accuse us of being "mercenaries at the service of an enemy country," especially when we visit the U.S. Embassy or participate in the debates, cultural or academic activities, video-conferences, or courses about technological uses of information and communication and English language that are taught there. Neither will they be able to continue to justify the David and Goliath theory, nor the reluctance to ratify UN Covenants signed February 2008, among many other resources employed by the regime. It is true that they don't need excuses to suppress and to hijack citizen's rights; but today, Barack Obama has put the ball in our court, which has placed the Cuban leadership under political pressure.
Another point to monitor will be how the agreements will be applied, and how the U.S. will ensure that the real beneficiaries of such momentous changes are Cubans and, especially, the emerging civil society. In any case, the U.S. government has confirmed its commitment to the long-neglected democratic aspirations on the Island, and it also assumes a great deal of historical responsibility for the consequences arising from such a decisive step.
It is hard to imagine all the juggling that the Cuban government will have to do in order to reconcile the "anti-imperialist" principles of ALBA and its regional allies with this renewal of relations with the Northern villain. If there is something the left does not forgive, it is adultery or ideological bigamy. At any rate, Cuba's side now has a four-month grace period until the Americas Summit, to be held in Panama, to show the U.S. that Cuba is willing to make advances in terms of human rights. Obama's message was, as such, almost an ultimatum.
To recap, superficially analyzing the respective speeches of the presidents of the two countries, the contrasts are obvious: one, young, smartly dressed in civilian clothes, talking about what he expects for the future of these policy changes from the seat of his government; the other, an octogenarian, stuffed into a ridiculous military uniform and crushed under the weight of medals and epaulets, reading a sheet of paper in a nasal voice and with funereal airs, from a horrible office where there isn't even a simple computer. Barack Obama represents a new era, while Raúl Castro is the past, even though we try hard to ignore that reality.
In addition, it is pathetic to assume the success or failure of our struggle against the dictatorship will depend on the policies of a foreign government. The U.S. has shown a unique ability and willingness to support Cubans, but winning democracy is, without a doubt, our own task.
The independent civil society, including the whole spectrum of opponents, activists, journalists, etc., can now choose between two attitudes: clinging to the anachronism of belligerency and the entrenchment that we have criticized the regime so much for, or assuming the challenges offered by the new era. The moment can be interpreted as a defeat or as growing pains. Personally, I prefer to grow.
This post has been done in collaboration with14ymedio.com, an independent digital news outlet in Cuba.
This post is part of a Huffington Post blog series called "90 Miles: Rethinking the Future of U.S.-Cuba Relations." The series puts the spotlight on the emerging relations between two long-standing Western Hemisphere foes and will feature pre-eminent thought leaders from the public and private sectors, academia, the NGO community, and prominent observers from both countries. Read all the other posts in the series here.
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