I’m going to Cuba!
Even after Bush has issued the order for all Americans to leave Cuba and return to the United States by midnight on July 31st under threat of unaffordable fines, and implied jail time.
And even after every American who knows I’m going has warned me that I’ll be arrested and tortured by Castro, or arrested and punished by our own government. Hmm…’tortured’ by Communists, or ‘punished’ by Homeland Security.
Both sound deadly.
Neither threat deters me.
I’m going to Cuba!
I’m not exactly sure why I’m going. But I am sure it has something to do with being ordered not to. In a democracy, there’s something blatantly un-democratic about being ordered by your government not to travel somewhere.
With a handful of exceptions, Americans haven’t been allowed – by our own government – to travel to Cuba for almost half a century. But this latest tightening of the embargo vise – this dictatorial presidential overriding of my constitutional right to travel freely – has me suddenly curious about why.
Why can’t I go to Cuba if I want to?
And why is this bothering me now?
Maybe because I never wanted to go to Cuba before. And why would I? The horror stories of torture and death drilled into our collective American psyche paints a bloody picture of the murderous swathe Fidel Castro sliced through his own country. No doubt, these stories assure that Americans will never want to venture into such deadly territory.
So, fear successfully dominating reason, I made up my uninformed mind long ago that I would never do anything so foolhardy as to risk my life traveling to a country so firmly under the boot of a homicidal maniac.
Why travel to Communist Cuba when I could just as well stay home and enjoy the freedom of democracy? Or catch a plane to anywhere else in the world. I’m American. I’m free to go anywhere I want. Anywhere at all.
Contemplating and sampling all things Cuban. Music, maps and guide books, biographies of José Martí, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara – along with historic news accounts and documentaries on those cable channels smart enough to broadcast the riveting programs that major networks think we have no interest in.
But the truth is, with the exception of maps and guide books, I’ve done all this before.
I guess my interest in Cuba really began years ago when I dated Osvaldo, a Cuban-not-quite-American who introduced me to Cuban music – which I fell in love with instantly, and still am to this day.
The stories Osvaldo told about his life in Cuba were shocking: happy remembrances of good times, and a government that provided for everyone.
He spoke about Castro as one would of a father – at turns, admiring and resentful. Osvaldo trumpeted with pride all the victories of the Revolution: free education, free medical treatment, food rationing to assure that no one ever went hungry, the near-eradication of racial prejudice, and more. His version of a mostly content, un-tortured Cuba flew in the face of all that I’d been told by my teachers, the U.S. media, and my government.
So, in my ignorance, I dismissed Osvaldo’s vision of his country as atypical.
However, the following year I met another Cuban, Mañuel, who shared proud accounts of how Fidel’s Revolution saved his country from the fangs of American imperialism – that smiling pac-man who was gobbling up his beloved Cuba through the use of a series of Cuban presidential puppets – the last being Fulgencio Batista.
In one breath, Mañuel condemned Castro for allowing the situation in Cuba to degenerate to a point at which Cubans felt the need to risk shark-infested waters to reach a better life, while also praising Castro for his courage and fortitude in keeping the “contamination of U.S. interests” out of his country.
Osvaldo and Mañuel, my only two encounters with Cubans thus far, left me thinking a lot about Cuba. And about the “contamination of U.S. interests.”
Why had Mañuel made such hostile reference to America?
I wasn’t politically aware enough back then to make sense of why anyone would be angry at America. I mean, our history proves how much we’ve done for other nations. Everyone knows that America is one of the wealthiest and most benevolent countries in the world…
On a white horse named Rescue, our Knight of Democracy gallops into poor, troubled countries wearing money and a smile.
If not for America, where would the rest of the world be economically, medically, militarily?
Mañuel’s negative remark wasn’t the first time I’d heard such ungrateful reference made about U.S. foreign policy.
But it was the first time I became intrigued enough to think about it…
“Diary of An American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land.”