Last weekend, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) made a speech in Miami to the Cuba-Democracy PAC. A PAC whose purpose it is to "promote an unconditional transition in Cuba to Democracy." It's no surprise that he told them what they wanted to hear. He said that his Senate colleagues and other tourists who visit Cuba are treating their trips to the island like a field trip to the zoo. "Cuba is not a zoo," said Rubio, "where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering."
You're right, Mr. Rubio, Cuba should not be treated as a zoo. For this reason, I'd like to rebut and expand upon your claim -- because you seem to be missing some of the complications that reside in your solution.
What we have now is the corralling of an island, blockaded by a U.S.-imposed economic embargo that adds links to the "cage" you refer to. Here, we have an embargo that, for years, has played into the hands of the Castros -- giving Fidel, and then his brother Raul, an excuse to claim that an "Imperialist America" is responsible for the poverty of those confined on this island -- allowing America to become the scapegoat in this particular petting zoo. Meanwhile, President Obama, who you criticize for his "easing" of travel restrictions, has permitted "people to people" travel, allowing for cultural and educational exchange between those within and outside the island. Which sounds more like a zoo to you? Which policy is more demeaning to the Cuban people? Which more harmful? Which further adds to Cuban isolation?
The truth is that both policies are demeaning and, in essence, dehumanizing. Though Obama's is a step in the right direction, it still manages to tase and lasso the people of Cuba and those who want to visit the island -- forcing them into restrictions and unequal relations -- relations in which Americans are still allowed to "gaze" upon the Cubans from a particular vantage point. I do see the problems implicit in such a dynamic. And yet, allowing for travel is a step that paves the road for the beginnings of exchange. A step that begins a conversation that could, in time, eliminate the problematic colonial implications of the human zoo analogy we find here.
What's worse, it seems, is your solution, Mr. Rubio. Continuing to forbid travel separates families and traps people. It traps your people; my people. It traps people in the island and outside of it. As an ABC (an American Born Cuban) from Miami, I understand what growing up in Miami is like. I understand what it means to hear, over and over again, the stories of our families -- separated by, as you yourself mention -- a cold war. I too carry that weight. But your solution is one that has proved to be a failure.
In your speech you criticize Senators who go to Cuba and return with the realization that our embargo is a "relic of the cold war," and you go on to say, "That's what they say. It is a relic of the Cold War, but our policy is not the relic. The relic is the Cuban government, that's the relic. The relic is tyranny. The relic is communism."
The truth is that both are relics -- the Castro regime and American policy towards Cuba. A war takes two sides to fight, cold or otherwise.
You admonish those who travel to Cuba by saying: "You just went to Cuba... to fulfill your curiosity, which I could have told you about if you'd come and seen me for five minutes..." But the truth is you no longer know the island you are from. And neither do I; or our parents. This is the saddest part of all. What could you have explained? When was the last time you went back? You and I have been forbidden to go back to Cuba. And that to me is a worse kind of zoo -- it's a quarantined, plagued zoo -- one no one wants to touch or visit; one in which the animals die, and nobody cares. One that lionizes America. One that, in other words, dehumanizes both Cubans and their much larger, stronger, neighbor to the north.