Thursday, May 17, 2012

We Put the CAFE

Response to Haroldo Dilla's “You Want Café?” , published in CUBAENCUENTRO.
María Isabel Alfonso
Translation by Sophia Crabbe-Field (WOLA Washington Office on Latin America).

On the 16th and 17th of April, the community organization CAFE (Cuban Americans for Engagement) visited the Department of State, the Cuban Interests Section and Capitol Hill, in order to express their support for a continued relaxation of travel restrictions as well as academic and cultural exchanges to Cuba, as approved by President Barack Obama. Nevertheless, the CAFE delegation, a representation of more than a hundred members, emphasized that the Cuban-American community is composed of a plurality of voices, whose views on issues ranging from the embargo to travel, differ from those positions held by Senators and Congressmen including Cuban-Americans Marco Rubio, David Rivera, Albio Sires, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bob Menéndez and Mario Diaz-Balart.

The support CAFE has received through e-mails and phone calls has been overwhelming. As much from Florida as from other states across the nation, both Cuban-Americans and North Americans have demonstrated their appreciation of our work on the Capitol. Many among the latter have requested to join us. The challenge is to organize political voices up until now ignored by those in the Senate and Congress, who have claimed to represent the entirety of the Cuban-American community, without actually possessing political jurisdiction over this population.

There are Cuban-Americans living throughout the American union. According to the country’s political system, citizens elect their Congressmen and Senators through their respective districts and states. It is time to organize this movement of people that, for the most part, disagree with this policy isolation and minimal exchange with Cuba. Republicans, Democrats, independents, as well as Cubans of other political affiliations living in the United States, are compelled by CAFE to exercise their rights as citizens and, therefore, to vote. 

So far, Cuban-American representatives in Congress have decided to represent the voices of a declining minority. These groups are certainly entitled to their opinions, but have done so in a way which has fostered an environment contrary to the expression of a political plurality among the Cuban-American population. These voices are meant to intimidate, they are McCarthyist and lacking in civility, demanding punishment for Ozzie Guillén, Juanes and Olga Tañón, condemning the visit of the Pope to Cuba while at the same time considering Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch as exiled heroes. CAFE and many other members of the Cuban-American community have felt it necessary to distance themselves from these views which, to our shame, reflect the voices of this minority and are echoed by Congressmen such as David Rivera.

We are not dealing with a generational conflict. As highlighted in the Human Rights Watch report “Dangerous Dialogue” on freedom of expression in the Cuban-American community, Cubans of all migratory waves have been victims of the aggressions perpetrated by groups that have made intransigence and violence a profession of faith. In this sense, one must appreciate how many of those who, until now, adopted positions which were opposed to reconciliation, have decided to give dialogue a chance. The presence of Carlos Saladrigas, founder of the Cuban Study Group, at the Centro Félix Varela in Havana is one notable example.

Another surprise was the visit to the island of Alfonso Fanjul, on a recent delegation with the Brookings Institute, whose objective was to “verify” the reform process underway. (The contributions in Washington of the Fanjul have created an important turning point in the continuation of the embargo. The brothers, owners of the Florida-based Crystal Sugar, were at the head, for many years, of a sugar empire in the United States, earning them the title of “sugar barons”. In Florida, environmental organizations accuse the Fanul of the devastation being caused to the ecosystem in the Everglades through an indiscriminate use of fertilizers. Their companies in Florida and the Dominican Republican have been repeatedly accused of violating worker’s rights).

TV Martí and Haroldo Dilla: selective journalism

During a recent report on TV Martí, Ana Carbonell, assistant to ex-Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, claimed that CAFE is proposing negotiations with Cuba without taking into account the need for political reform on the island. In CUBAENCUENTRO, Haroldo Dilla, former researcher for the CCP (Cuban Communist Party) Central Committee, denounced the politics and ethics of CAFE as “confusing our rights as citizens with the lowering of tariffs or with the possibility of an entrepreneur investing in the Cuban economy.” He goes further still, accusing the members of the group of belonging to Cubadebate, site of the ideological department of the CCP, of which he himself was a member. (If Cubadebate wishes to publish anything that any one of us writes, they are more than welcome to, as this would be a symbol of openness on their part. The truth is that our articles featured on Cubadebate exist only in the mind of Dilla, who may be confused due to his own history of writing publications for the CCP. We invite Dilla to present proof of these accusations.)

A lack of viable alternatives, both through the traditional Right, as represented by TV Martí, as well as through the resentment exhibited by ex-Communist Haroldo Dilla, coincides with the insistence on positions that have failed to achieve any real breakthrough across the past fifty years of hostilities. The definition of insanity, according to Albert Einstein, is repeating the same thing over and over, while hoping for a different result. When will this finally be understood?

As an expression of this new approach to solving political dilemmas both within Cuba as well as in the United States’ policy towards the island, CAFE welcomes criticism. None of our members, who are comprised of many more than the nine who were able to travel to Washington (while paying all of our own expenses) assume that we have found the best way to foster dialogue with the governments of Cuba and the United States. The solution to the conflict between the two countries and among Cubans will not be the product of a single act, but instead of a process involving a path towards reconciliation which requires the humility of all parties involved. A sharing of ideas calls for a minimum of civility. Only someone with no viable proposals would resort to that kind of slander, calling us “favorite guests of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington”, or to accusations of providing Cuban-American investments to small and medium-sized businesses to “oppress the people”, as Dilla and Carbonell have alleged. 

The members of CAFE have never spoken out against the civil rights of Cubans. On the issue of travel rights, CAFE. advocates that travel rights be respected for both Cubans as well as North Americans, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Travel from and to Cuba and the United States is prohibited in both countries. In relation to the political system currently prevailing on the island, various members of our group reiterated during the meetings on the 16th and 17th of April that a policy of exchange and dialogue is a better way of fostering economic and political change in Cuba. In addition, the group presented concrete demands to the government of the island, through which we criticized those practices we consider discriminatory and damaging to Cuba’s development and to national reconciliation. Having said this, let us assume that the path will be one of civilized dialogue, facilitating an environment of peace and rapprochement, free of seditious intent, thus engendering the least traumatic of transformations.

The four measures proposed by the Cuban government do not consist in a fully-fledged plan, but instead in minor, yet pertinent, decisions that remain noteworthy even under the oppressive conditions of the United States embargo. We do not shy away from recognizing, together with the Cuban government, as well as the overwhelming majority of the international community, that the United States policy of sanctions and harassment against Cuba is “illegal, immoral and counterproductive.” Worse yet, it is simply anti-American to sacrifice the values and interests of North Americans for a minority more interested in the reclaiming of property and power, than in the transition to democracy. Our preference for gradualism and for small and medium-sized property is based on the fact that it is through the middle and working classes, and not through larger interests, whose dialogue with Cuba is questioned neither by TV Martí, nor by neo-Leftist Dilla, that development and democracy emerge.

Rather than creating rhetoric and making broad proclamations of principles, we prefer instead to contribute to a change in migratory policy and the increased participation of Cuban-Americans in the changes being undertaken on the island. Hopefully, Haroldo Dilla is right and the Cuban government intends to plan for greater changes than we have suggested. Our suggestions have not consisted in a radical plan of action, but rather in minor suggestions, that, despite difficult conditions, such as those imposed by the North American embargo, Cuba must undertake. The worst would be, when confronted with radical positions such as those of Dilla, to allow for the paralysis of principles, and to be left without awareness of the true agencies of power. 

It is regrettable to note the way in which Radio and TV Martí ignore or treat unilaterally themes which actually generate diverse opinions within the Cuban-American community, such as Cardinal Ortega’s conference at Harvard, the prohibition on travel to Cuba or the recent terrorist actions against flights to Cuba in Miami. U.S. tax dollars are being used being used to subsidize McCarthyist attacks against the reputation of U.S. citizens, offering every opportunity to those opposed to dialogue, without regard for those who defend it. It is time for this station, paid for with our taxes, to treat with equality all points of view within the Cuban community: radicals of all persuasions as well as moderates, those that support a policy of isolation and those who oppose it.

All these manipulations and insults further justify the existence of CAFE. The best contribution of the Cuban-American community to Cuban democracy is to be a political model, where all opinions are respected and tolerated as enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

According to a 2011 survey carried out by the International University of Florida, limited to Cuban-Americans from the Miami Dade County, 57% favor an end to the travel ban, another 60% oppose any restriction on family travel, while 57% support the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba. One of the principal objectives of CAFE is to make more visible this under-represented majority of Cuban-Americans. Whoever considers themselves a part of this new conversation should not hesitate to accept our invitation to join the dialogue, and send us an e-mail at We put the CAFÉ.

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