Everybody who’s somebody has written about what has happened — what has not happened, rather — since Cuba and the United States announced their willingness to talk to each other as equally sovereign nations after 50-some years of obfuscation.
Let me start by saying that I am a nobody (I am not an “intellectual”, I am not an academic, I don’t have “Big Law” nor any economic interest backing me). My opinion is simply that, my opinion, and it is worth no more (but no less) than yours.
On the other hand, I was born in Cuba and have been going to Cuba — which I left with my parents when I was eight years old, in May 1960 — since 2002 (a week before Jimmy Carter visited the island, and as Osvaldo Payá was taking his Proyecto Varela to the Cuban legislature), I grew up in Latin America just as Cubans in the island did, and I am, first and foremost, a civil lawyer, like all of my Cuban colleagues are. Despite the fact I have been a Florida Bar member for more than 30 years, I am still essentially the same civil lawyer I was when I started practicing in Argentina.
I wanted to stipulate this to save some of you the time it takes to call me a “communist”, a “traitor”, and a “collaborator with tyranny” (I am ideologically agnostic, by the way). I also admit: I do feel a lot more comfortable with Cubans in the island (and those who grew up in the island over the past 50 years or so, wherever they may live) than I do with most of my relatives and neighbors who grew up in the United States. Idiosyncratically and culturally, I am a lot closer to my colleagues in Cuba than I am to my colleagues in the United States.
And just to give my “non-fans” a little more ammo, Cuba will not (and should not) give anything to the United States in exchange for lifting the embargo. This is an idiotic legal hole we dug ourselves into, and it is up to us to find our way out of it.
Having said that, I now have a question for you all: Does it make any sense to pay heed to the many clairvoyants among us — the crystal ball crowd, those who, for years, have announced Castro’s Final Hour or the Revolution’s imminent demise — when you want to know whether Cuba has changed over the last year (or over the past seven years) when most of these self-appointed experts who write and talk endlessly on TV have never set foot in the island over the last 15, 20, 30, 40 or even 50 years? What can they possibly tell you about what’s going on in Cuba that you cannot find out by going to Cuba yourself, as a former Secretary of Commerce recently suggested we all should do?
These myth maniacs frozen by the Cold War will tell you people in Cuba will not be accessible to you. But that is a blatant lie that anyone who visits Cuba can easily corroborate.
When I visit Havana I rent a room at a private home, I walk around and interact with all kinds of people (I may be under watch, I don’t know and could care less), I frequently take rides on boteros, cars that follow a fixed route and which you can hop into as long as there is a seat available, and talk to Regular Joes like me, who invariably and openly complain about everything. I also interact with as many young Cubans working for the government, or in academia, or in my legal profession, as I possibly can. And I am often invited to speak at conferences where nobody censors me, where I ask as many impertinent questions as I want to, and despite the occasional tense moment, nothing bad happens.
The same can be said about health care in Cuba, something our local “experts” in Miami frequently criticize. I was in Havana this past December 17 — I was also there a year before, the day “the new era” was announced — and uncontrolled coughing and non-stopping hiccups took me to the Clinica Cira García for a brief visit. There were about 15 people before me when I arrived at the médico de guardia, the equivalent to one of our hospitals’ ERs, most of them locals. I could experience first-hand what Cubans “must go through” under similar circumstances — or maybe not so similar, I grant you that, since Cira García is one of those places where foreigners go when sick. Still, most people in the waiting room appeared to be local.
The human warmth and kindness, as well as the professional knowledge of the doctor who saw me, was simply outstanding. And it was evident I was not given any red-carpet treatment, but rather that the same warmth and consideration was extended to everyone else, no matter whether Cubans or foreigners. It took me less than 30 minutes to sit down with one of the doctors. Since I decided not to undergo any extensive studies to find what was wrong with me (I was traveling to Miami the next day, a Friday), they gave me a couple of shots that took care, temporarily at least, of my condition.
Since early Saturday morning, already back in Miami, I started receiving calls and emails from my friends and acquaintances in Cuba who were worried and expected me to have already gone through a full check up. It was hard for me to explain that I would have to wait till Monday to do that, the earliest I could get a date at my doctor’s office to see his assistant, rather than spend many long hours in one of our hospitals’ emergency rooms.
There are plenty of things to complain about in Cuban society — and many Cubans openly do so — but what has for years completely shredded the credibility of our deeply frustrated exile community’s in its attempts to “inform the world” of what is going on in Cuba is these myth-maniacs’ proneness to exaggerate matters to the point their tall tales can be easily shot down by anyone who is truly acquainted with Cuban reality.
So do yourself a favor and go see for yourself, and quit relying on other people’s opinions, including mine. We are facing a great opportunity for both nations, but specially for all Cubans. It should not be sacrificed on the altar of the myth maniacs among us.
José Manuel Pallí is president of Miami-based World Wide Title. He can be reached a email@example.com.