I was born in Cuba and grew up in Miami. Like many Cubans, my family at first welcomed Castro as a hopeful change in 1959. But with time, a dictatorship with support from the Soviet Union took shape. For many years, Cuba was a puppet of the Soviet Union and tensions with the U.S. escalated. Many left then in years that followed and many others risked their lives on dangerous rafts; some did not make it.
Change is needed and probably inevitable, especially after soon-to-be 56 years of Castro family dictatorship, but the question is how can this realistically happen? Many hold-on to the position of “overthrow,” or of no negotiations with a dictatorship and violator of human rights. It’s a “black and white” position in a world with shades of gray. It’s unfortunate when this position is held for political benefit or other, possibly ego-driven purpose.
As it’s been pointed out, we have diplomatic relations with Vietnam and China. We are somewhat economically dependent on China, yet that government violates human rights. The U.S. government has in the past, unfortunately, supported right-wing regimes and brutal dictatorships in Central and South America. So why should Cuba not have a chance to change, although its system is still unjust? As many have said, 50 plus years of the embargo has been ineffective and has given the Cuban government more reasons to point to the north as the source of all of its problems.
Also as a Christian, a Catholic priest, I have hope. With openness in relations, with access to the Internet and world news, with the legitimate desires and actions of the citizens, change can come about. I feel even better and more hopeful knowing that Pope Francis has been a part of this process. I trust him. Also, with less antagonistic interchanges and more openness, there is less chance of open repression. It seems nearly impossible to turn back the clock to the repression of the 1960s and ‘70s. The Cuban government has made some progress by allowing small businesses, some travel and greater religious expression by its people.
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My main hesitation: That many in the U.S. see this as mainly a recreational opportunity, a chance to buy cigars and go to the beaches or mainly a chance to make money. I see it as a chance to uplift and relate to a suffering people, who, like us, want freedom, work opportunities, family unity and a better life. I hope that true solidarity based on mutual respect reigns.
The Rev. Rafael Garcia is pastor of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City.