The announcement out of Washington this week was quite extraordinary: the U.S. is finally willing to establish a new relationship with the island nation of Cuba, thus potentially transforming a fifty-four year old stalemate into a period of mutual benefit. After decades of hostilities between Fidel Castro and a litany of U.S presidents, the door seems to be open to exploring a detente, led by the brother of Cuba’s revolutionary leader and a U.S. president who was not even born when the tensions began. Maybe the latter is a meaningful fact.
It’s difficult to assess at this early stage of announcement just what has led up to the change in attitude. Apparently there have been preliminary discussions for several years leading up to the joint announcements. But it just may be that a break in the conflict required an impetus from someone young enough to not possess personal emotions from those earliest days, a leader who could look through the fog of historical missteps on both sides, the razored rhetoric designed to heat continued anger, and the ego of misplaced jingoism, to recognize the futility of self-degradation. For what purpose?
The stridency exhibited by both countries has denied family coherence, wrongfully imprisoned some, destroyed others, limited commerce and development (in both countries), and unnecessarily fomented tensions within other nations, as well. And while the announcement this week stopped far short of healing all wounds and grievances, the overwhelming reactions of Cubans and North Americans have been expressions of hope and anticipation, maybe even sufficient to further the healing that has just begun. In a season of saber-rattling that echoes across the globe, this seeming olive branch provides a sweetly quiet sound of promise.
As I imagine all the possibilities that could emerge from such a thaw, I cannot help but think about another small country and its convoluted relations with the U.S. Nicaragua has borne the brunt of political and social interventions from the U.S. for decades, just like Cuba. It has suffered from economic embargoes which at times has nearly brought the populace to its knees, just like in Cuba. It has relied upon one leader in particular for decades, to navigate its tumultuous and sometimes deadly relationship with its neighbor to the north, just like Cuba. It has displayed a political abhorrence of U.S. policy, both at home and elsewhere in Latin America, just as Cuba has done. It has partnered with other nations who have contested U.S. intentions and actions. Just like Cuba.
Could it be that Nicaraguans might want the opportunity to start over again, to rebuild that which has become so fractured, to demonstrate the inherent warmth and curiosity that they hold for the people of the north? Might they be like the Cubans, waiting for acknowledgement from their president that the days of estrangement have yielded little more than stubborn deprivation and artificial segregation? Are they desperate to hear a U.S. president acknowledge, “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests. And instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries. Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and [Nicaraguan] people and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas?” The official and diplomatic context between Nicaragua and the U.S. might be quite different from the context which has governed U.S.-Cuba relations, but the impact on our respective peoples has been the same: artificial distance, lack of trust, too little respect.
There are many people in both Cuba who are very comfortable with the distance between their country and the U.S. History has indelibly imprinted on them the risks of a closer proximity. Such wariness is perhaps well-conceived, given that history. Likewise, there are those in the U.S. who view this outreach as a capitulation, a “giving in” to a very different world view. They seek to stay the course of the past. To those, I might suggest that their never-budge mentality has achieved absolutely nothing positive in the past 50+ years. It’s time for a different approach, as Albert Einstein observed so eloquently: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” One thing is fairly certain. The results couldn’t be much less effective than we’ve experienced over those 50 years.
If the Cuba transition unfolds with positive outcomes, maybe I’ll eventually revisit the dream about the gulf that exists between the U.S. and Nicaragua. Until then, I’ll continue to enjoy the learning, the opportunities and the relationships that I have encountered there, even without an embrace of our government.
I’lI also hope for forgiveness and reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba. If I was a smoker, I’d go have a cigar….