Sam Burnham, Curator
For over six decades the island nation of Cuba has subsisted under the iron fist of a murderous communist regime. This week the people of Cuba took to the streets to protest the horrible conditions they are facing. COVID-19 is decimating the medical system and no vaccine is available. The country is in the depths of its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. And the place was just pummeled by Hurricane Elsa. The people have grown tired of a regime that’s as incompetent as it is diabolical.
I got a better understanding of Cuba a couple years ago when I became friends with a man who was born there and immigrated to Miami with his parents when he was young. He told me stories of his childhood in a tobacco growing region of Cuba. He remembered walking the road with his grandfather down to the nearby town to visit a store. He talked of the aroma of his grandfather’s cigars and how he has never smelled anything like it since leaving Cuba. His stories focused on the landscape, the sights, the sounds, the people. You could hear the affection and the connection in his voice. He had that love of place, that forever attachment to the location.
And then he told me how his family was allowed to leave with what they could carry on a plane. They were able to gift a few things to family members who remained in Cuba. Everything else, including their home, was seized by the Communist Party. That was the price of being allowed to come to The United States.
They stayed with family in Miami while they got their feet under them in their new country. Many of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends had fled communism to build a new life in the United States. He was lucky to have that help with the transition. So many others started with nothing because that’s what they escaped with.
My friend still has family on the island. He still has a connection there. But he’s an American now. He has been an American longer than I have. He grew up here, got an education here, built a career here. His wife is an American. So are his kids and now his grandkids. Regardless of what happens there, I’m pretty sure he’ll live out his days here. But I know he’d like to go back for a visit, to see the old place, to see familiar faces, and to track down that elusive aroma of his late grandfather’s cigars.
The people who have fled the regime over the years are certainly looking at this situation with a guarded, perhaps even cynical, optimism. They’ve seen a lot of uprisings come and go. They want freedom for the people they left behind. They want better access to their loved ones there. They want what’s best for their people.
Perhaps this will be the time that the Cuban people finally will take no more. Hopefully the protests that filled the streets of six or seven cities will grow into a revolution that topples the crime syndicate established by monsters like the Castros and Che. Perhaps we stand at the dawn of a new era -a decentralized Cuba where people are free to live and dream.
Hopefully the people of Cuba will be successful this time. It’s a time for Western nations to act wisely and give support to the insurgency. They need to consider the errors of the past and find new ways to support the people. Don’t try to take over, don’t overreact. But don’t sit idly while another opportunity evaporates. It is past time for change.
Cuba can have a bright future. Tourism, agriculture, and a revival of one of the world’s great cultures could mean peace and prosperity for an oppressed population. Let the people go. Let them plot their course. It’s time.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire