This weekend I attended a conference held by Raices de Esperanza, at Duke. I am glad to say that I met many wonderful people who have their hearts full of good will and the desire to help Cuba be free. It was a great experience and I thank all who were involved in making it happen. I have many positive things that I can say about it, but honestly, most have been said at the conference and so I don't think we can learn from my simply repeating them. I feel obliged to speak candidly about one of the negative aspects of this conference so that, just maybe, next time, we will stop repeating our mistake...it is a mistake that has been made by the exile community for about 5 decades now.
Far too much of this conference was spent on the red herring that the Castro regime has dangled in front of the exile community for the past 50 years, the one that we keep biting and getting hooked onto: the embargo and its surrounding politics. Conference participants literally spent hours "discussing" (it was more like: "hey, this is my long-winded opinion," and "hey, you're stupid and a communist and now you have to listen to my ridiculously long-winded opinion" and then "hey, you're stupid and here is my long-winded opinion that doesn't begin to address your argument because I wasn't even really listening to you..." and "hey, you're stupid..." you see my point I hope) the merits of the embargo, the merits of the travel ban, the politics behind them. They also spoke about political candidates and who they endorsed and other such irrelevant things. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, maybe they are not entirely irrelevant, but they certainly are brought up during a panel titled "Understanding the Opposition." Politics has its place, and it is not omniscient.
This was supposed to be a conference about Cuba and how to better aid it, not one focused on US-Cuba policy. The conference had a sub-focus of "yesterday, today, and tomorrow." The present and future that I saw at this conference was a bit disheartening. It seems to me that we are falling into the same trap that the Cuban-American community has been falling into for years. We are getting entangled by reaching out for that red herring. We could put it aside, we could focus on our similar desires and our one goal of a free Cuba and what we can do to help bring it about. Instead, we spend hours bickering over something we don't have any control over anyway.
If something can be learned from the past, it should be that when we have been divided we have failed. Until we learn this lesson and unite behind our common cause, our todays will likely be like our yesterdays, and our tomorrows will remain unchanged. I remember this quote that I saw on a poster in a classroom, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." I sincerely hope that we will wake up from this repetitive nightmare we have created for ourselves.