Thursday, December 18, 2014


        A few days ago I started an article advocating the normalization of the relations between our country and Cuba, but some pressing personal matters forced me to put that project on hold. I had planned to urge President Obama to take steps to fulfill his early intention to do that.
President Obama announces is new policy toward Cuba.
        Then yesterday, following Cuba’s release of American Alan Gross, whom they had held prisoner for five years, came the President’s world-shaking announcement that the move toward normalization had begun. It was initially brokered, as it turns out, by Pope Francis. The USA had released three convicted Cuban spies, Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero, and Ramón Labañino, members of the so-called Cuban Five, in exchange for Gross and an unnamed US intelligence agent, whom they had been holding for twenty years. Even as Mr. Obama was speaking, Cuba’s President Raul Castro, brother of ailing Fidel, was simultaneously informing the Cuban people of the exchange in a tone some commentators called remarkably conciliatory.
        President Obama sees this as a first step toward ending the embargo, an action only Congress can take, because of congressional legislation naming three conditions that have to be met first: 1, the liberation of all political prisoners; 2, the legalization of all political parties, guaranteeing the freedom of the press and of labor unions; and 3) the scheduling of free elections for the Cuban people, with international supervision.
        The announcements were met with great enthusiasm in Cuba, and with mixed reactions in the United States, as was to be expected. I respect Senator Robert Menendez, who has represented New Jersey and our nation well, but I disagree completely with his and Senator Marco Rubio’s adamant opposition to the normalization of our relations with Cuba.
        They should be listening to the younger generation of American born Cubans, who are overwhelmingly in favor of the President’s actions. Even some of the older expatriated Cuban population are supportive, but a larger percentage of them are understandably opposed, given what they had suffered under the Castro regime. I believe they will change their minds, when they see the benefits of reestablished diplomatic relations, eased travel restrictions, the freedom to reunite with their relatives, and commercial exchange.
        President Obama’s action is in no way an endorsement of the Castro regime and its oppressive measures. On the contrary, by improving conditions for the Cuban people, it should have the effect of strengthening and increasing their demand for reform. How much better it would be for both our nations if the friendship we once enjoyed could be restored. How much better that we should be allies rather than enemies.
        In the early days of the Cuban revolution. I invited one of Fidel Castro’s Cuban American “ambassadors,” whose name I can’t recall, to speak to our congregation a few months following my installation as pastor of the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia.  That was at a time when many Americans were appalled by the atrocities of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship and were looking to Fidel Castro as the people’s savior. Little did we know how soon our hopes would be betrayed by Castro’s own communistic dictatorship.
        It was not too many months later that our congregation was busily involved in helping to provide food, clothing, shelter, and jobs, for a growing number of Cuban refugee families in our part of north Philadelphia. Some of those families united with our church. One young woman, whose first name was Dianela, was deeply concerned about her fiance, whom she had not seen for three years, and whose dramatic escape from Cuba we helped to arrange, with connections in Mexico and Canada. The very day Jorge finally arrived in Philadelphia, I performed a wedding in Spanish for him and his overjoyed fiancee. I have never seen a happier couple exchange their wedding vows!
        Memories like that make me all the more in favor of normalizing our relations with the people of Cuba, many of whom I came to know and love. After more than half a century of our embargo’s failure to bring about the downfall of the Castro regime, the time for seeking to restore the close relationship that once existed between our two nations is long overdue. It will help to improve our relations with other Latin American countries as well.
        If we can do it with China, we certainly ought to be able to do it with our close neighbor. Kudos to President Obama for taking a bold step in the right direction.

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