By Jim Ryerson
(jim [at] travelingman [dot] net)
The writer is a documentary film producer specializing on Cuba, which he’s visited more than 30 times. He formerly worked as a television news reporter in Los Angeles, and won all of the major broadcasting awards.
The call came from a friend. “So what’s going on with Cuba? I saw where Raul is making all kinds of changes and that Cubans can now go to hotels, own cell phones and DVD players. Are they ready to open up”?
Myths about life in Cuba abound, many that are easily dispelled by just one trip to the island. Which is why the Miami mythmakers and their cold-war cohorts in Washington don’t want you to see for yourself. I’ve been there more than 30 times, as a documentary film maker. So busting the myths is something I’ve been trying to do for the past decade. The reality is, they already have opened up quite a bit, its just hard for Americans to see through the distorted prism of exile politics.
As far as these changes go, they are certainly significant psychologically for the Cuban people, now that anyone with enough money can stay in any hotel and rent cars, removing restrictions that made ordinary people feel like second-class citizens. For the past several years, you could see thousands of cell phones in use throughout Havana. All a Cuban had to do was get a foreigner to go down to the phone company and register it. Cubans have had VCR’s and now DVD’s for several years, and with the rather easy availability of commuters with DVD burners Cubans have been trading copies of their favorite movies for years. Those convinced that there is some sort of information blackout might be surprised when entering even the most rundown apartment building and finding cable-TV, pirated from satellites and featuring the latest Mexican soap operas, and even news programs critical of the regime. Now the state is getting in on the act, announcing a new 24 hour government channel which will feature much the same foreign content. The government is also opening up public lands to farmers, allowing them to grow what they want and sell it, as well as opening stores where they can buy the supplies needed to bring in those crops. And, most importantly, there is the likelihood that there will be some sort of revaluation of the Cuban Peso, which will give ordinary Cubans more buying power.
And what is America doing? On Monday U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., held what was called the Cuba Democracy Roundtable in Miami to call on the world to join the U.S. in condemning the changes in Cuba. That’s right, Martinez, and the usual suspects from the exile leadership, along with a couple of old line anti-communists from Eastern Europe claimed, without evidence, that these changes show “the younger Castro’s political hold seems to be weakening”, and called on other countries to help bring democracy to Cuba. The Senator apparently missed the Rose Garden Speech President Bush gave exactly one month ago, in which he pointed out that there are a lot of empty seats on the bus riding to the condemnation of the Castro brothers, “Unfortunately, the list of countries supporting the Cuban people is far too short — and the democracies absent from that list are far too notable”, he said in his official statement. Take for example leaders of the European Union, who, while Bush was explaining why the farce of the U.S. embargo was good policy, were in Havana, “to see the resumption of an open and constructive political dialogue” with Cuban leaders. Can you believe that, actually talking to the Cubans? Brazilian, Russian, Turkish, and even a high level Vatican representative have been to Cuba in the past few weeks, apparently not worried that talking will bring about the resurrection of world communism.
The word on the island from ordinary citizens and even from dissidents we have talked to in the past few days, is that these changes are being seen as a positive sign for the people of Cuba. If we really want to have any influence on their future, it is well past time for the U.S. to start a realistic dialog with those who are running Cuba in 2008, not those who controlled it 50 years ago.
Looking for Cuba – 10 minute version of 1hr. 20 minute Film
An overview of Cuban life in the 21st Century and the move by a dissident to end the 50 year old American Embargo against Cuba. For investment information on the Travelingman Films State of Cuba films, please contact jim [at] travelingman [dot] net.
Added: April 03, 2008