Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Red Herrings in Duke

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.


Anonymous said...

And exactly what are you doing to better Cuba? It's very easy to criticize the work that others have done as a means of giving yourself a voice and name.

out of curiousity how many panels did you attend? how many participants, members and founders did you interact with? I'm sure none.

V said...

I don't mean to insult anyone. I say that there was a lot of good that could be said about the conference. The last day was excellent, when we were able to give our ideas of how to help...I just think that there should have been more of that.

I interacted with plenty of people and founders and I found everyone to be wonderful. I arrived on Friday and attended every panel/discussion/workshop.

I feel that I am providing a constructive criticism, and partially echoing what Andy Gomez said to everyone.

As far as what I'm doing to better Cuba, I'm hard at work trying to build bridges in the community and to the island. I hope that I have not offended you in merely providing my thoughts and my hopes that the next conference will not have so much time devoted (and I think this one was not intended to, but wound up focusing on it anyway) divisive politics.

Gabriel said...

So albrt44's reaction to your opinion is to question your commitment to the cause? How dare V question a preoccupation with a policy that has failed for 50 years. Diversity of thought is the key for any movement, groupthink is death. Albrt44 should analyze why he lashes out without engaging the topic at hand. Dismissing someone's ideas without intellectually confronting them is a tactic that fails in the long run and on a personal level is quite douchey.

Mickey said...

albrt44, Uh, "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..." What part of that statement do you have an issue with? As far as I'm concerned it's right on, I mean, as in v's right. How long are we going to fall for this embargo "red herring." An embargo that for all practical purposes doesn't even exist. You ask v what she's doing to better Cuba and she has answered you. I hope you too are doing your part in building bridges and bringing about true change in Cuba. If you're not, that's your right but, this reaction of yours to v's post, again, uh...

Michael said...


I appreciate your thoughts on the conference, and I don't think albrt44 replied in the most constructive way. If we really want democracy in Cuba, a practice which requires respectful dialogue and compromise, we need to practice what we preach. And he did not, I'm afraid.

That said, I had a much different reading of the conference. I agree that perhaps more of a focus on concrete initiatives that we can undertake could have been welcome, but our hope is that throughout the year Raices can engage folks in these projects, so we choose to not make them the exclusive focus of the conference.

One important purpose of the conference that is often overlooked is that it is meant to be educational. We cannot act without the knowledge to act intelligently, and too often Cuba issues - whatever you think of US policy - are portrayed in black and white terms. I believe that we offered a wide array of panel discussions that touched on important aspects of cuban's past, present, and future that are complex and multifaceted. Only did one of the panels go blatantly into policy territory, and that was not by design. In fact, the subject of the discussion was not supposed to be policy at all, but the panelists took it there and, well, as the moderator there was little I could do to stop them.

But, personally speaking, I don't think policy is a "red herring" per se. It is important and has concrete effects on the lives of Cubans (there may be loop holes in the embargo, but it does exist and it does have an impact, like it or not). Policy can both open and limit certain avenues for action, and as such it is something we should care about individually. It is an important tool that can help us achieve our goals or obstruct them. Sometimes it may do both at once.

But I agree that in the context of a Raices conference, policy should not be the focus. And I don't think it was. It came up, yes; it always does. But I think overwhelmingly there was a sense of unity among participants - that whatever policy approach is your preference, within those parameters we all have something we can do now to help to achieve a common goal. For some that is travel. For others it is working to support dissident movements. The list goes on and on. And that's ok. To each his/her own.

V said...

Thank you for your comments Michael. As I said, there were many positive things to come from the conference, you mentioned many, and yes, education of the community is very important. I just wanted to call attention to the fact that people were very quick to get sidetracked from the matter at hand (and I don't mean the Raices members that organized the conference, but rather, the audience).

That is the sense in which I think Cuba policy is a red herring...we are talking about one thing and then suddenly switch to the most divisive topic I think our community has instead of focusing on the issue at hand. As I said, policy has its place, I just wish it would stay there.

Thanks for all the hard work that you put into the conference, which was ultimately a great success.