José Manuel Pallí: A handshake a day keeps the extremists away

If Cuba wants to improve the relationship with the United States in a rush — as they should, for the benefit of the Cuban people— all they need to do is free Alan Gross immediately, without conditions and as a simple gesture of kindness (and of justice, since four years seem too much, even if you believe he was into something more than improving the IT tools of the Jewish community in Cuba).

Should that happen, I believe the vast majority of Americans will join the vast majority of Latin Americans (the last one, Colombian president Santos) in urging the U.S. government to move in the direction of normalizing its relations with Cuba.

Then it would be up to Cuban American politicians on both sides of the aisle to decide whether to throw yet another tantrum or simply blend into the process of engagement between the two countries in a way that makes them useful to that process, through their input and that of their constituents.

The pressure for a reset in our Cuba policy was already mounting before “the hand-shake”, and the images of the six-second interaction, facial, gestural, verbal (my wishful guess is President Obama told Raúl Castro “we need to talk about Alan Gross”, and my wistful guess is Raúl’ s retort, with the translator scrambling to do her job, did not involve “The Four”) can only bring it to a higher level.

Before despondency takes hold of some in our Cuban American community, we should realize what happened in South Africa was all but inevitable, sooner or later. And we should try to think pro-actively, for a change, before we find ourselves reacting — for the umpteenth time — to the manipulation and the histrionics of the reactionaries on both sides of the Florida Strait.

Because this is not the first time that we can visualize, almost touch, an improvement in the relationship between Cuba and the United States, only to see it dissipate by way of random acts of violence and of repression. We should focus on not falling, once again, into the hands and traps of those who want to preserve the status quo of a foolish and barren policy grounded on a fictional mutual aversion.

Here’s hoping (or wishfully thinking, I know) that today’s handshake is not just the beginning of yet another experience that ends in frustration such as the process that was cut short by the cowardly downing of the Brothers to the Rescue aircraft. We Cuban exiles should have learned from that. We should know that our own individual and collective behavior plays a role and can even counter-act and deactivate the plans of the hotheads.

I was recently urged to sign a petition against Cuba being elected yet again as a member of the United Nation’s Human Rights Council. I did not sign it because I am not sure we cannot benefit from having Cuba in that seat, if what we really want is to improve the respect for certain human rights in Cuba. In a way, by having Cuba in the Council, we may have the Cuban authorities right where we need them to be, to discuss with them, in the forum the Council provides and in the presence of other members of the international community, those issues related to Human Rights that have haunted us and pained us for so long. But only if we want to discuss those issues seriously, in an effort to find common ground that might allow for full implementation of those rights in the island. If all we do is go before the Council in order to get our frustrations off our chest by calling those representing Cuba there all kind of names and blame them for past abuses, no matter how grievous and monstrous, then we will have lost yet another opportunity to move the chains in this new process that may have begun with “the handshake”…

This is not the time for the Cuban exile community to remain with our backs to reality, to repeat past mistakes, to claim, against all evidence, that 188 countries in the world that systematically vote against the United States in the United Nations have been bought by Cuban or Venezuelan gold, bamboozled and manipulated by Cuban intelligence, or goaded into business relations with Cuba by pulling their greed string. These are all ridiculous and nonsensical “explanations” for not doing the only thing we can really do, which is adjust our individual and collective attitude to the real Cuba before our eyes. Our own attitude is the only thing we are truly in control of, and no one but ourselves can subject us to any condition that we alter that attitude. Just as we cannot expect others to do what they will not do by subjecting them to our own set of conditions trying to mold their attitude and behavior.

The United States does not have a “Cuba policy” in place: all we have is a collection of wishfully thought for aspirations that translate into those conditions we know the other side will never meet. That is NOT a policy: that is simply an excuse (and a lame one at that) to NOT HAVE a policy, like those we have developed when dealing with China, Vietnam, even Libya, for heaven’s sake, during the W years.

We all need to get behind the President in this effort to bring some degree of sanity to a relationship gone astray despite the many historical ties that bind us, specially those Cuban Americans who believe it is time for a new national strategy towards Cuba. And we need to do it NOW.

José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached a

You May Also Like