|Death and resurrection. Was the inspiration for Obama and Raúl?|
That might or might not have been the reason why both US president Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raúl Castro Ruz chose the 17th December to bury the hatchet and announce to the world that they would start working towards an improvement of the diplomatic relations between both countries. 17th December is the day when both St Lazarus and Babalú Ayé are celebrated in Cuba. It is also the day when many people decide to make the pilgrimage to El Rincón, the shrine to St Lazarus just outside Havana. Death and resurrection. US and Cuba, “besties” again. Did you, reader, remember to place you bets on this one? If you did, whatever odds you had, you must have had a nice windfall to spend on your Christmas shopping.
Since the news came out I have been asked constantly for my opinion. I don’t mind that, after all I am usually the only Cuban in the room whenever I go to a dinner party or friend's birthday celebration. But as I said to a reporter from The Guardian when they interviewed me a day after Obama and Raúl made their announcement, you can put twenty Cubans in a room to discuss these latest developments and you will have twenty different opinions, probably shouted out at the top of our lungs.
The embargo and the consequent “Cold War” treatment towards Cuba was, is and will continue to be self-defeating. It served no purpose in the 60s and it has no place in our modern, globalised world, in the 2010s. Instead of undermining Fidel’s rule and later on that of his brother’s, the blockade strengthened it as it provided an easy excuse for the dictatorship’s shortcomings. The embargo isolated Cuba, the consequence of which was the development of a siege mentality under which politics became black and white and any type of nuance was frowned upon and harshly dealt with. Because of its illegal and unjust nature the blockade also put the US government at odds with some of its own allies. The message to the rest of the world was clear: we can do this to this small country for the simple reason that they have dared, dared! to make a decision on their own fate. I have no truck with Fidel and company, and readers of this blog know how critical I am of the regime, but you don’t go around wanting to bump off leaders of other nations and expect people to like you.
However, even a partial lifting of the restrictions that have existed for so many years is welcome news. I feel cautiously optimistic, though. The key word here is “cautiously”. To me this piece of good news ought to be accompanied by practical steps towards the creation of a democratic state in Cuba. How could this come about? There will have to be several factors involved; I’ll just focus on a few.
First, I would dissolve the Cuban Parliament as it is now and call for a general election within eight to ten months, even a year. That would give time to people to organise themselves and think of the better ways to move forward. That would mean that a multi-party system would need to be formally introduced and allowed, a feature of democracy that is conspicuous by its absence in Cuba. Second, the press would have to gain a greater degree of independence so as to be able to conduct a fair reporting on the election process and other matters. Third, the judiciary, a strong tool of the Castro regime, would have to become as impartial a body as possible. Parties participating in the general election would have to present realistic, achievable and evidence-backed solutions to the challenges faced by my fellow compatriots. Amongst the solutions there should be an economic plan for the continuous growth of small and medium social enterprises with the proviso that profits generated by these businesses must not end up in the pockets of greedy shareholders but rather be pumped back into the system through taxation.
Of course, these factors mean nothing as they will not become reality. At least not in the near future. Cuba is far too precious for the regime to let go of so easily. Also, we should not dismiss the role of the US government. As long as they keep meddling in our affairs, they will continue to provide ammunition for (younger brother) Castro and co. Furthermore, the US is in no position to teach other countries lessons on democracy or foreign policy. For evidence of this look no further than the recent report on the CIA operations following the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the role that torture played in obtaining intelligence. When it comes to its domestic affairs, it appears that the social and political system have failed a huge chunk of the population. When people talk to me about the two planes the Cuban government shot down back in the nineties when they illegally entered our territory my current response is: how would you feel if the Cuban government sent two planes to New York with a huge sign reading “I can’t breathe”? Fair? Quid pro quo? I thought so.
As I mentioned before, according to lore Babalú Ayé winds up in another land, the land of the Ararás. Whereas the way to perform his dance when he is an Orisha in Yorubaland is by pretending to be a very old man with gnarled hands, foaming at the mouth and saliva running his face, once he becomes Dasyí his dance is more upbeat with a more celebratory tone. Let us hope that this is the reason why both Obama and Raúl chose the 17th of December to announce their new love-in. And since this is my first column of the New Near and we are discussing openings, here’s Cuban quartet Sexto Sentido singing for Elegguá, another Orisha, the one who holds the keys to fate, the one who opens and closes roads. Here’s to a better 2015!
Next Post: “Living in a Multilingual World”, to be published on Wednesday 14th January at 11:59pm (GMT)