Early this morning a cacophony of sounds awakened me from a deep sleep. The sounds were coming from my IPhone.. Emails, messages on Messenger and private messages. My friends in the East Coast forget that I don’t wake up until three hours after they do, but they seldom contact me en masse.
In a half hour I received two hundred and five emails and messages. For a moment I entertained the thought that perhaps, just perhaps, by some unexpected miracle my Cuba had been liberated. After 53 years in this country it is a possibility that only exists in the furthest reaches of my subconscious mind.
I began to read the messages that arrived from my American friends mostly congratulating me for the announcement that our president Barack Obama, and Cuba’s president Raul Castro, had reached an agreement to begin a new chapter in the relationship between our countries. I ran downstairs to watch this historic moment on television.
Even before our president had an opportunity to utter a word, I was receiving messages like these from my Cuban friends:
“I knew this president was going to take this abominable action before he left office”
Another friend wrote: “We cannot forget that our parents had to leave the country where we were born because of the Communist regime that has enslaved Cuba for the last 55 years. It is SHAMEFUL that the president of this great nation is attempting to normalize relations with the same vermin that continues to disgrace our Cuba”
And yet another: “What of the thousands of political prisoners still jailed in Cuba, jailed because they want to be free? Who is thinking about the thousands who tried to escape to freedom and sank in rafts before they could reach friendly shores? May God help us!”
My American friends were less opinionated. They asked me what I thought of these new developments. What does this Cuban whose bones and soul were formed in that beloved island more than half a century ago think?
I am a Pedro Pan child. Like more than fourteen thousand other children one day I found myself alone in this country that received me with so much love and welcomed me to the experience of freedom. I had left my dad, Pablo Lopez Capestany, a Cuban attorney, journalist, and writer in a cage in Isla de Pinos prison for trying to alert the Cuban public through his TV program Ante la Prensa that Fidel Castro was a communist. Jailed for speaking his mind. Forced into cold showers on winter days, forced to shovel human excrement in a futile and humiliating exercise. When he finally arrived in exile he never spoke about his prison experience. He only confessed to a constant hunger for ice cream. My mother always made sure there was a full gallon of ice cream in the refrigerator.
Despite that painful experience, he never ceased to use his words to fight ignorance about the Cuban plight, to explain, to condemn injustice, to dissuade those who thought minds could be changed with the power of violence. He was a patriot until the last day of his life.
And what about me? What do I think? After all these years my blood tastes more of the Pacific Ocean that graces the coast of my beloved Oregon than of the Caribbean Sea.
I think that the embargo hasn’t worked. The embargo has given Fidel and Raul a reason for their enmity with this country. It has given them a justification of their hatred of the United States, and has helped to maintain a people full of fear of their supposed enemies to the north. I think that many Cubans have suffered hunger, that many Cubans have lived far away from one another in an effort to maintain the division fostered by the embargo. I think that the slightest movement in any direction has the potential of taking us to a new place, to a new dialog.
I am also of the opinion that the souls of the Castro tyrants have over half a century of practice working towards becoming more evil than Machiavelli. I always look behind their words and gestures, always look for the trick, for the dagger hidden behind the most apparently innocuous idea. They and their minions are not transparent. I think about the motives, possibly of an economic nature that lead the United States to take this step at this moment. Why at this moment?
Yet at the same time, unable to put my faith in either government, I find myself trusting the people. The American people and the Cuban people: today we are opening the doors of possibility that one day we will get to know each other better, meeting out in the open without the influence of communism/opportunism or capitalism.
I am hopeful that there will be open communication through the Internet, that until now has remained a concept to the majority of Cuban citizens without access to its wonders and opportunities, that as Americans travel to Cuba in greater numbers the Cuban people will see in them the kindness and intelligence and compassion I have found they possess in this country. I like the idea that it will be the common people without a political agenda who will ultimately be able to begin a different future for that country of mine so distant and so loved.
But my hope is colored by a great deal of caution. And I remember my grandfather Pablo Lopez Morales, who when a militiaman said shortly after Fidel took power: “Now we will have a free Cuba!” He paused and said to him: “Well young man, we will see…”
We will see.