by Sandra Guzmán
(CNN) — When does a romantic anniversary trip with your hubby to celebrate five years of marital bliss become an international kerfuffle, complete with calls for you to be prosecuted for treason? Well, when it’s Cuba, where Americans are banned from traveling to for tourism, thanks to one of the most enduring embargoes in the history of mankind.
Yesterday, Beyoncé stopped by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and confessed the outcry over her and Jay Z’s trip to Havana was “quite shocking.” Welcome to the land of cray cray, Bey.
Emotions run deep, high, and very bizarre when it comes to the subject of Cuba. When photos of the celebrity couple strolling Havana were released, a political tumult of epic proportions erupted in Florida. Sen. Marco Rubio and a small band of conservative Cuban-American politicos released a statement vociferously demanding an investigation of the trip by the president and the Treasury Department.
One anti-Castro activist went as far as to threaten to file a petition against the celebrity couple to be formally prosecuted. Hova and Beyoncé’s crime? Chilling in Havana.
There’s little doubt the collateral damage and suffering on both sides of the Florida Straits — families divided, innocents killed, fortunes lost — has been profound. But it’s high time we stop the madness and bring sanity to this debate.
For a long time, I’ve been of the opinion that the Cuban embargo policy in general is for Cubans on the island and the Diaspora to resolve. Those of us who have not suffered directly should stay out of it and let cubanos figure their way out of this mess. But, what happens when political views of a few trample on an entire nation? And, what are the ramifications when these opinions border on the irrational?
The few but very influential pro-embargo lobby have put a stranglehold on a lucid discussion surrounding Cuba. Five decades of failed policy later, our nation is being held hostage unable to have a cogent discussion on anything Cuba-related.
The U.S. embargo has not and will not work. Put in place in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, the policy is stuck in a time warp that has nothing to do with modern-day reality. The most enduring embargo in modern day history is a remnant of a Cold War past when the Soviet Union was the enemy and the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The thinking was that financial sanctions, which included a ban on travel by American citizens, would collapse the island economy and force people to revolt against Fidel Castro.
Over the years, these sanctions have been eased or toughened depending on political winds. In 1992, disgraced New Jersey Rep. Robert Torricelli was behind one the cruelest acts which banned, among many things, food and medicine sales to Cuba and prevented Cuban-American families from sending cash to their relatives. These were tough times and seeing many friends and families suffer because they couldn’t visit their elderly mothers more than once every three years, or being prevented from sending them needed supplies, was very painful. Restrictions have eased under President Barack Obama but there is still a major ban.
Enter Jay Z and Beyoncé.
It’s 2013 and we need to debate Cuban policy earnestly. Members of Congress must stop the cowardice around the issue and stop humoring the delusions of passionate folks stuck in the 1960s for political votes and favor. The pro-embargo folks are ignoring the policy’s epic failure and fail to recognize that U.S. policy has played into the hands of the Castro brothers, who have sinisterly used it to make the case to their people that if Cuba is starving and the island economy can’t grow, it’s because of this U.S. policy.
In 1995, I won an Emmy for producing a show that explored the Cuban embargo. What was special about the program, “Embargo Contra Cuba,” was that it gave an opportunity for the many different opinions in the Cuban debate to be heard. The voices of everyday Cuban families caught in the quagmire of policies that make their family members the “enemy” were allowed to surface. These are the folks — cubanos to the core — who will tell you, if they had a mic and a safe forum, that the current U.S. policy is stupid.
We hardly hear from these normal cubanos and for that matter, other average Americans on this issue. That void is tragic.
Cuba policy is steeped in dysfunction on both sides. Last week, the State Department denied Fidel Castro’s niece Mariela Castro a visa to travel to Philadelphia to receive an award for her gay activism, no reason given. A State Department official said visa applications are confidential.
Fifty-one years into the policy, another Castro is in power and the island is still communist. The U.S. still trades with communist China despite its human rights violations. The U.S. still trades with communist Vietnam. We, the hip-hop generation, see right through the political hypocrisy and we want change.
There are some bright lights in Congress giving hope. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor held a news conference after visiting Cuba on a three-day fact-finding trip recently. The Tampa Democrat announced that she found the island has made economic reforms and called for the United States to promote these positive changes. Castor is part of a new group of audacious politicians, some from Florida, who are pushing to normalize relations and bring constructive dialogue with Cuba.
Obama stands to make history by using his pulpit to encourage a more sensible dialogue around a Cuba policy that has been futile. I doubt that he’ll step into this issue willingly. It will take gigantic political cojones to do so and on Cuba, sadly, the president hasn’t expressed a willingness to “go there.” The best hope for sanity rests on the voices of reasonable Americans and Cuban-Americans to demand change.
Real democratic progress in Cuba will happen when the gates of travel are opened. You want democratic transformation in Cuba? There’s nothing more compelling than a bunch of celebrities sporting Prada bags in one hand and smoking puros in the other to inspire revolutions of capitalistic proportions.
Editor’s note: Sandra Guzmán is an award winning journalist, blogger, media consultant, and author of, “The New Latina’s Bible: The Modern Latina’s Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family & La Vida.” Find her at www.sandraguzman.com