Thursday, December 18, 2014
Yesterday's announcement by
I have a Cuban friend who now lives in Canada. He used to work at the resort we affectionately call our "Cuban cottage". He left that job for greater opportunities in Canada and married a Canadian girl as well. Yesterday, he was ecstatic with the news. Finally, he said, the Cuban people will be able to have more. He spoke eloquently about how difficult life is for Cubans, and how hard it is to do even the simple things, like feed your kids or put shoes on their feet or clothes on their backs. His words were happy but also profound and impactful.
I also have many Canadian friends who have been messaging about this. While happy for the Cuban people, they worry that our little corner of paradise will be changed forever, and not for the best. We go to Cuba for the obvious reasons: sun, warmth, beach, booze and fun. But we also go because, like me, everyone who goes there falls in love with the island and the people. We love their friendly charm and their positive outlook and strength in the face of adversity. We admire their courage and feel proud of their accomplishments, all done in the face of hostility from the United States.
There's no question that yesterday's announcement will signal more profound changes to come. But we must all keep our perspective and maintain a sense of reality. If the Cuban people think that the announcement will bring instant prosperity, if they believe that good paying jobs will be at their finger tips, if they believe that consumer goods that we take for granted will be filling up the shelves in their shops, they are sadly mistaken. All they need to do is to look at other Caribbean nations, such as the Dominican Republic or Haiti or Jamaica. These nations have trade and investment with the US. There is still crushing poverty and reduced expectations for the bulk of their people. True, there is wealth in those nations, but it is only for the select few. Cuba will be no different.
And we tourists must keep a sense of reality. Cuba will continue to change, but the change will continue to be managed by the Cuban government. We will not see McDonald's restaurants popping up on every corner. We will certainly see American tourists at "our" resorts, but not in great numbers at first: too many Americans still see Cuba as hostile territory. Some Americans will arrive right away, but mainly for curiosity. More will arrive, but, hopefully, the tourist infrastructure will improve to absorb them. And, in this way, more jobs will be available for the Cubans. Not great paying jobs, but jobs nonetheless.
Yesterday's announcement was indeed historic. The reaction by Cuban Americans, largely based in Miami, and Republicans generally, was predictable. They are lashing out at Obama as being a traitor for even speaking to a Castro. They hold the Castro brothers in complete contempt and want their heads on spikes. These are the people the Cubans and Canadian tourists should be worried about. If they attempt to go to Cuba in large numbers, it will not be to go to reunite with family or spend quality time at a nice resort. It will be to foment anger and discord, to speed up the change until it erupts in chaos, all allowing them to exact their revenge on the old revolutionaries who chased them or their grandparents out of Cuba fifty years ago. This is the potential danger for all of us. Civil war ? Not out of the question. The Miami based Cuban Americans have been like angry dogs on a short leash for half a century. They are ready to be let loose, where the cry of havoc may be real.
We must be wary and hopeful. Of course, we wish nothing but the best for the people of Cuba. But the Cold War is not dead. Not by a long shot. After all, Fidel and Raul are still with us, at least for a little while yet.