New Embassy for an Old Dictatorship / Miriam Celaya

Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)
Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — The reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington finally took place amid extravagant fanfare, and, judging by the profuse media coverage, with catchy headlines and photos on the front pages of almost all the newspapers, it seemed that there was nothing more relevant taking place in the world.

The (re)opening of the Cuban embassy was the recipient of movie star treatment in some of the news media: photo galleries with pictures of before and after, instant ones — not as offensive — of the first opening of the building during the Cuban Republican era, a construction worker, proudly posing outside the newly renovated headquarters, showing off his Che Guevara arm tattoo, an indoor plaque to be unveiled at the time of the opening, and the flag hoisted on the mast; just like all flags at embassies around the world … Undoubtedly, the Island’s proverbial vanity was on a high.

A large official delegation traveled from Cuba, at public expense, to attend the merriment that joyfully celebrated the Castros’ capitulation and which – with that skill for euphemisms — the government discourse coined as a “victory of the Revolution.” These included several representatives of the government “civil society” who offered the embarrassing spectacle of rallies of repudiation orchestrated during the last Summit of the Americas in Panama, who now were awarded a trip of encouragement to the Empire of Evil which provides so many goods.

Not to mention the national news report that aired on Cuban TV which, for the first time in 56 years, turned into a surprising tribute to the northern nation, with laudatory references to the beauty of its landscapes, its natural wealth, its robust economy, its productivity, its strong cultural heritage and the values of its people. If TV viewers had not been able to develop a natural defense against cynicism over decades, they would have convulsed. Combat veterans of the long war against the imperialist enemy have definitely lost their job content.

The opening of embassies have been termed “historical” and they are, indeed, after more than 50 years of confrontations and broken relations. However, beyond the pompous adjectives and the symbolic event of the hasty restoration of the old building that (until recently) was the Office of Cuban Interests in (until just yesterday) the enemy capital, few are asking these questions: “What will really change for Cubans “abroad” and “in Cuba”? How positively will the lives of the common citizen reflect this metamorphosis?

Media comments have not been few about the alleged expectations that have surfaced among the people in Cuba with the opening of both nations’ embassies. Obviously, there is no consensus on the criteria of those who have been questioned about the matter and all who stand for the same interests. For example, artists and academics who benefit from cultural exchange programs are optimistic, and so are those who have relatives living in the United States and look at the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington as a chance for the viability of immigrant entry permits.

But as “normalization” makes its strides in diplomatic circles, there is concern that US visas will eventually be limited. There are those who are convinced that there has been a drastic reduction in the number of visas issued by the United States Interests Section in Havana. Whether this is true or hypothetical, what is real is that the more tangible expectative of the controversial Obama-Castro romance has to do with the wishes for trips and not with the hope that Cuba’s internal situation will show an improvement.

On the other hand, among those wishing to leave Cuba, there is a growing concern about the possible repeal or amendment of Cuban Adjustment Act, which has unleashed a new stampede in the form of illegal migration of Cubans, both by sea and through the borders, especially from several Latin American countries. Every week, dozens have been intercepted in the Straits of Florida and at the borders of Central America and Mexico. I think there is no better survey on expectations of the negotiations than that permanent exodus.

Meanwhile, nothing has changed significantly or hints at any change in Cuba. Although it could be argued that the general opinion of the Cuban people is for the approval of restored relations, nobody seems to expect any easing that will expand the economic, political and social freedoms of Cubans. In any case, the media show of diplomacy and related plethora of celebratory smiles, handshakes and mojitos will not put food on the table, much less point to calm the hunger for freedom that continues to spread, as another quiet epidemic, among Cuba’s best sons.

Even if the logic now drawn from the agendas of official dialogues points at the embargo as a priority –increasingly more symbolic than realistic — emigration, compensation for the expropriation of properties in the early years of the Revolution or a naval base whose occupation or return will not really mean anything to most Cubans; it is becoming increasingly clear that it is time to load the dice about such a crucial issue as human rights, beginning with inclusion of demands for recognition and participation of the independent civil society and the establishment of a national dialogue that reflects the aspirations of all of us for Cuba’s present and future. As long as that does not take place, the much flaunted “new” Cuban embassy in Washington will be just a mere scenario for the puppet show from the Plaza de la Revolución.

Translated by Norma Whiting