Long before Obama, bridges to Cuba were being built

Bridge builders to Cuba have been around since the 1960s. There are differences between these early engineers of peaceful dialogue and those that are being heralded today. Surely, though, both have played an important role in the advances made in the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. But we must NOT forget that as recently as the past decade, many of these persons were often harassed, threatened, and some even murdered.

Through this column I hope to point out the many thanks due to the ones who had the foresight to follow the path of peace and dialogue long ago. And I would also hope that many of our young, Cuba activists today skip over revisionist history and learn to respect the work of many of these early visionaries. Pioneers who had the sense, intelligence and courage to know it was the right thing to do — some paying the ultimate price.

There are still those who complain that many of the new believers do so simply because a U.S. administration finally concluded it was the correct path to take — undoing errors committed over and over again for decades. What the heck, I say, let us agree with all sides — on the basic issue. And let us maintain full awareness that many still see this as just a new tactic used for the same old reason. In this I have great faith in Cuba and its people, who have demonstrated over and over they know how to defend themselves.

Giancarlo Sopo

But back to building bridges.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Miami Herald had a column written by Giancarlo Sopo and Daniel Jimenez titled “Young Cubans are indebted to Obama.” My congratulations to both. I too would like to offer my thanks to former President Obama for taking the road less traveled on Cuba during his eight years in office. By doing so he helped to change the course of U.S.-Cuba history in a positive way. To this day I vividly remember candidate Obama speaking at Miami-Dade County Auditorium in 2008 making his promise on Cuba — later to keep it as president. That… took great courage.

Daniel Jimenez

But I would ask Mr. Sopo and Mr. Jimenez to dig deeper, to find out the roots of this quagmire. Investigate persons, many of them young people (some, back then, younger than they are today) who went in organized groups and some alone, some who went on to start businesses that allowed Cubans to finally reunite with family members after years of separation. All steps, some small and others quite large, that led many, like myself, to discover our roots allowing us to fall in love with the island that belongs to all of us.

I mentioned the businesses because often I listen to persons gripe that many of these entrepreneurs became rich “on the back of the suffering of Cubans.” Sure, there are those. The story never told, though, is of the millions of dollars spent by so many of those charter flight businesses, for example, in places like Washington, Miami and Tallahassee that made Obama’s thorny path a bit easier to cross in 2009. There are also the untold tales of fortunes spent by some who did legal business with Cuba, and who had to defend themselves from witch hunts by the likes of Reagan, W. Bush, the FBI and others.

Carlos Muñiz Varela and son.

Many of these folks were labeled… simply because they wanted to see a more normal, a friendlier, a healthier relationship with a neighbor, or if you wish, a political opponent. Is death and destruction the price one must pay for having opposing views?

Miami, especially, is a place that would rather forget many of those who came before, often libeled, slandered and denigrated by its media and political leaders. Persons, many no longer with us, who over time proved that they were on the right side of history.

I would like to leave Mr. Sopo and Mr. Jimenez with only one name I’d like for them to remember. Maybe investigate if they haven’t heard of him. Only one. I would ask that they delve into this person’s short life. How his involvement with Cuba led him to pay the ultimate price. His name is Carlos Muñiz Varela murdered in 1979 in Puerto Rico at the age of 25, leaving behind a five-year-old son, who still today seeks justice and closure for the murder of his father.

The blood of Muñiz Varela, and the agony and hard work of so many others who believed in a better way to solve the many issues with Cuba, laid the groundwork for Obama’s step forward in 2009 and thereon.

It is time for Miami to start recognizing these facts.

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