That is precisely what is happening in Cuba today.
Referred to as ‘escoria’ or Trash by Fidel Castro himself, over one million Cubans, have found themselves exiling to the United States since the 1960s, due to the political oppression and the repression on basic human rights they felt encroaching on their horizon. In Spanish the word ‘Pregrino’ means ‘Pilgrim’ and yes maybe they didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, but Cuban refugees were also pilgrims, in their own right. They landed on US shores empty handed, with only their heartbreak and crushed dreams, their futures an abyss of the unknown and yet hope of freedom, was all they had in toe. What this generation of pioneers created from nothing, was an influential immigrant society, scarred, but not deterred by the traumatic heart wrench of a communist revolution.
The consolidation of the Cuban governments actions by The United States during the past months has shifted the perspective of many Cuban Americans, but especially interesting is the time lapse between the generational impact. For essentially first generation American- Cuban Millennials, born to Baby Booming parents, brought in their baby carriages by their sacrificial parents to the United States, during the first mass Cuban exile, the view on Cuba is slightly leaned up against a 45 degree angle.
I know this, because this is Me.
This is also thousands of other American- Cuban Millennials, born and bred on everything Americana, but with a slice of Flan, next to their Apple Pie. We were always taught to eat all of our food, because kids in Cuba didn’t have anything to eat; we were also taught day in and day out to respect this country, for its Freedoms and to never take advantage, of the land that had offered our Grandparents an escape route from the vengeful imposition of hatred, by a state. A political ex post facto, who consequently had as much respect for its people, as a mere grain of the sugar, which they too confiscated and royally obliterated.
Some of our Grandparents recreated the careers they once had in Cuba, some never could… Our parents attended grade school in The United States, and learned to speak better English than kids born in America in the 1960s and we American- Cuban Millennials were the first generation officially born on American Soil, to immigrant children who had been raised to be more American than not, by immigrants who valued their time in America as borrowed. You see, we grew-up seeing the pain held deep in the eyes of our Abuelos who could never let go of what they lost. But yet, they made a stringent effort to ensure that we loved this country, because this had now become ours. Their grandchildren’s stake was now, in the land of Washington and Lincoln, the land of the Free and the Brave, The United States.
Y History 411: 1959… a mass exile of Cubans started. President Batista had been ousted by the Castro revolution, and Batista’s supporters, comprised of established professionals such as businessmen and doctors, were the initial batch of Cubans to have their properties confiscated by the government.
In the years following, Castro continued oppressing Cubans on the island, forcefully stripping them of once inalienable liberties, abolishing over 55,000 small businesses and taking all private property. The further tightening of the communist belt, led to more Cubans fleeing from the Island in fear.
1965 – 1973… President Lyndon Johnson initiates “freedom flights” (2 Cuba to Miami flights per day, 5 times a week– to help refugees seek asylum)
1974… A 1/4 of a million Cuban refugees had been transported into the US, making South Florida an enclave for Cuban exiles just 90 miles from the shores of their motherland.
As I looked back upon time, I realized I would need to put this week’s historic context into perspective and I simply couldn’t think of anyone better to help me in doing that, than Daniel Díaz-Balart. As of yet, you may only find familiarity with the surname, that which stands parallel to Cuban- American Political royalty, if you will. You see, like Hyannis Port has The Kennedy’s, Simi Valley has The Reagan’s, Miami has the Díaz-Balart’s. A family standing within the promise of public service, which was instilled in their DNA by their Patriarch (Daniel’s Grandfather) Rafael Díaz-Balart. Rafael, was a Cuban politician who served as Majority Leader of the Cuban House of Representatives and Under-Secretary of Interior during the Batista Presidency- he founded, La Rosa Blanca (The White Rose), the first anti-Castro organization, in January 1959 and exiled to the United States with his family. Daniel’s father Lincoln Díaz-Balart and Uncle Mario Díaz-Balart, both have been/ are respectively, Congressional political shepherds representing the Cuban- American community of Miami with great distinction.
Disclaimer: The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation estimates that 304 political arrests during President Obama’s 48 hour trip to Cuba- in addition to, the 1,447 political arrests of the Cuban people made in January and the 1,141 made in February of this year.
The first question I had for Daniel was… As an American- Cuban Millennial, with his understanding of the whole picture, what is his perspective on President Obama’s visit to Cuba?
“I think that in the grand scheme of things, it is unfortunate. What will ultimately be the primary takeaway from his trip, is the legitimization of the Castro regime and sends a clear message to the world that the United States is going to accept the status quo in Cuba.”
It’s no secret to our families, that human rights violations have tainted the island, since 1959. In fact, those violations have permeated through three generations, they began when our grandparents, were the age we are now. As I was thinking about that, I wondered about its poignancy… the generation who had struggled to flee the island for freedom, now have grandchildren cusping on the same age as they were, when they fled the repressive regime, and yet nothing has changed. When you think about the oppression, from generation through to generation, what goes through your mind?
“What comes to mind are my friends, I have been so blessed and fortunate to get to know, some incredible Cubans in recent years… People like Danilo Maldonado, the Cuban graffiti artist, known as ‘El Sexto’, I think about Gorki Águila, the lead singer, of the incredible Cuban punk rock band, ‘Porno para Ricardo’ and I think of and I see what they go through constantly.
I saw what they went through, just this past Sunday, about an hour or so before Air Force One touched down in Havana. I saw the footage, I hope more people will be able to see of Gorki and Danilo marching with the ‘Ladies In White’... like the ‘Ladies In White’ do every Sunday, and like they have experienced now for 46 Sunday’s in a row. They were ambushed by a mob of thugs and they were terrorized, beaten, dragged and thrown into busses and whisked away.
So that is what I think about, when I think about Human Rights on the Island. I think about what happens every single day. I think about those brave young guys, who interrupted Bob Lee from ESPN’s Live shot, just Tuesday after Obama attended the Baseball game with Raul. These brave young Cubans interrupted an ESPN live shot to request the release of political prisoners and to demand basic human rights. Those young guys, were whisked away as well and you know, the ESPN anchor was pretty I think shocked, by the fact that.. in a matter of seconds a bunch of plain clothes State Security officials appeared and put these guys in headlocks and they were immediately rammed into the back of police cars and nobody knows what will become of those guys.
That is what I think about and frankly that is what inspires me, to continue to do what I can to share these people’s names and stories, because that is the least that we can do. You know there are plenty of people, including now the President of the United States, and his entire support system, from business to, you see ESPN sending Tweets calling Fidel Castro a savior. So we have this, to use a sports term, ‘full court blitz’, a full court press, of everybody from The President of the United States, to big business and major league baseball- everybody encouraging that the Castros be acknowledged and legitimized. There are all of these forces that together are abdicating for business and status quo and legitimizing the regime and who is sharing the names of people like ‘El Sexto’ and who is sharing the name of Gorki?”
To that point you mentioned, when did Communists become Heroes? In the sense that many young Liberals around the globe, have fanaticized this Communist and Socialist mindset without fully understanding, that those same communists were the ones murdering people for being homosexual, or if you believed in any sort of religion, or if you had any freedom of the press, if you played music or if you had AIDS. There are so many reasons Y they have abused people for the past 57 years… When did the fanfare, find this acceptable?
“You know Lauren, I think the problem is that young people, just don’t know. They haven’t been properly informed, they haven’t been properly taught, the reality of how brutal the regime in Cuba is. Instead what you see in the press is the glorifying of Cuba, you see the old American cars, the Cigars and the mojitos, European architecture and what not, that is how Cuba is reported. I think that is just a lack of understanding, it’s largely due to how the true story of the Cuban reality has been neglected, by not just the American Media, but the International Media. Even though, this brutal regime has been in power for 57 years, the International Media, has for whatever reason, decided that these human rights abuses, aren’t worth reporting. So instead, what you get are stories about the old cars and mojitos and cigars and some kind of really inaccurate picture. So that is why, I think so many young people think that Cuba is this kind of romantic and idealistic country. When people like you and I, know full well, that could be further from the truth. It’s an island of 11 Million slaves, at the end of the day.”
Here is a bit of my family history, my uncle was stabbed to death, and left to die on a street in Havana, by Castro’s thugs. Y? Because he spoke out, against the regime. So to me, it just doesn’t add value to think of Cuba as being this romantic island lost in time, when what I see is the blood stained streets. But then again, I also know, that isn’t the “trending” story. I do think a lack of education, knowledge and understanding of the truth is behind its glorification.
“People like to get hung up on the “Idea” that any shortcomings on behalf of the regime can be excused, because for instance everybody in Cuba receives a “Free” education, or everybody in Cuba receives “Free” healthcare, of course that ignores the reality, once again in terms of what kind of education. For instance, kids in Cuba actually believe, Fidel is God, and he is the only God who should be worshiped. Anybody who knows anything, knows that the Cuban health system is appalling in terms of the standards of medical treatment, that the Cubans themselves actually receive. There are shortages from basic supplies and appalling conditions at the hospitals…
My questions is… let’s say even if we do, acknowledge that everybody is receiving free education, presumably a good thing, and then everybody is entitled to free healthcare. Is it really necessary then, for Cuban’s, to in exchange for that, sacrifice their basic freedoms? Is it really worth Cuban’s not being able to have a future and establish a career, in exchange for those things? I really just don’t think the tradeoff is worth it. That said, I don’t even believe the propaganda that the education system and the healthcare system on par with what it is perceived to be, in the International press…”
I have one question for you, about the young people on the island… In the West, we take for granted the rights that we have, obviously we have never had them stripped away from us, so Westernized Millennials can’t really imagine, what it would be like to grow up without something, such as the Internet. The Internet is an open means of communication, instills knowledge, because we have the ability to search for answers to anything, at our fingertips, which helps us form educated decisions. BUT, the young people on the Island of Cuba, not only don’t have the Internet, they never have. The small number wifi hotspots that are now becoming available on the island, restrict access to most sites online. Is opening the internet, as President Obama did mention, something so simple as the world wide web, is that a fear of the Communist regime? This will open the floodgates to young people, who don’t know what the outside world looks like…
“Absolutely. They absolutely fear the population gaining more knowledge, and obviously we know that access to the internet for the Cuban people, would result in exactly that, and so they absolutely fear that. The reason that there is not universal access to the internet in Cuba, is because of the regime. You know that is consistent with the regime and with the embargo the Castro regime has against the Cuban people. They are the only impediment there, so they are the ones that have decided that they cannot allow the Cuban people to have access to the internet, because if that were the case, then the Cuban people would have access to so much more information and also a means to communicate easily with the outside world. To share messages, photos, videos and so I think it is a huge part of the regime’s system. It is very important for their system that they prevent Cubans from having something, like you said, that we take for granted here, which is access to the internet.”
You just mentioned something really interesting, the embargo that Cuba has on it’s own people is potentially, actually no it is, worse than the embargo The United States has with Cuba.
My last question for you is… coming from such a political family, who had such a stake in Cuban Politics on the island before the revolution, your Grandfather Rafael Díaz-Balart, had been elected to the Senate and was not able to take that office, because of the regimes takeover. What is your vision for the change you want to see in Cuba?
“What I want to see, is the heroes that are there now, like we saw just this past Sunday getting beaten and arrested for peacefully protesting… I want to see those Cubans and those heroes, become the future leaders of a Free Cuba. You know, I want to see them elected to a free and democratic House of Representatives and the Cuban Senate. I want to see these individuals especially, be elected President of a Free Cuba, that is what I want to see and what I think should be the ultimate goal. The unfortunate result of these “quote-on-quote” changes that we have been seeing take place since December 17th of 2014, unfortunately just make this dream more difficult. I think that what this is doing, is just empowering the regime. What these measures and Obama’s trip to the island have done, is facilitate what will be a transfer of power, from Raul to somebody of their choosing.
So my dream is to see a Cuba which is Democratic and Free. Where there is free elections and political parities will be able to express themselves without fear, practice their religion without fear and that is what I want to see. These measures have made it more difficult in order to get there, but I still have all of the faith in the world, in the Cuban people and in those brave dissidents who I know are never going to stop fighting. Just like I know, The ‘Ladies In White’ will be out there marching once again this coming Sunday, and they are probably going to be met with another round of violence, which will make 47 consecutive weeks of violence. But, they are going to keep marching and it is because of those heroes that are on the island, that I continue to be hopeful and have faith, that before too long we will be able to see Free Cuba.”
… So I just had to ask… Are you going to be running in the political world one day… because that last answer sounded very politically inclined, Daniel… Sensing a bit of uncertainty in the chuckle streaming through the other end of the line, I proceeded to say, ‘Well You never know right? It would certainly lend some hope to the future of Millennial politics…’
“I am focused on my career, I am focused on my practice, but I will do whatever I can to help those heroes on the island… You never know, not anytime soon, but you never know.”
If you too would like to follow Gorki Águila’s musical journey, Click HERE
For insight into ‘El Sexto’, his push for free speech and his art check out his Blog, by Clicking HERE