Grateful for the good news

By Alvaro F. Fernandez

altGreat news arrived last week.

It was past 10 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24. My home phone rang. Progreso Semanal editor in Havana Manuel Ramy was calling.

“I have good news,” he said. “And you deserve to be one of the first to hear it,” he added.

The news, of course, was that the Cuban government was announcing that as part of their extension of immigration policy, “Cuban citizens who left the country illegally, including professionals who decided to stay abroad abandoning their mission or family visits, may travel to Cuba.” This group includes Cuban rafters who have been in a sort of limbo since the U.S. and Cuba reached an immigration agreement back in 1994. It was the dawn of what became known as the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. And for reasons dealing with that agreement, as I understand it, Cuban rafters were not allowed to return to Cuba.

Over the years, also not allowed to return have been many athletes and other professionals who had decided to stay while representing Cuba in other countries they were visiting.

With last week’s announcement all that changes. Over the years the policy of exclusion by the Cuban government created heartbreaking circumstances of persons not able to see family members – some for decades.

Any way you slice it, and whatever the limitations (which there are some) at this time, when I received Ramy’s call, and after hanging up, I sat quietly and alone in my dark living room. My young daughter was sleeping in an adjacent room. Immediately I thought of her.

I also thought of Rodolfo, one of the many rafters I have communicated with over the past year. Finally, he will get to see his daughter, who he last held in his arms when she was a baby of two. A not so little person now, she questioned her father’s love for her during their phone conversations. She could not understand why he wouldn’t come visit her.

Rodolfo left in 2005. And in 2013 he will finally get to see his daughter – again.

Also on my mind was Hector, the softball player I wrote about months ago. It’s been two decades since he last saw his mother. Next year he’ll finally get to travel to Cuba and hug her.

Rodolfo, Hector and thousands of others will finally get the opportunity to kiss a mother or hold a daughter and tell them face to face that they love them.

The division of the Cuban family has been a driving force for me since 2004, when George W. Bush drove a wedge between our families by limiting our opportunities to visit and help them. Later when I learned of what was happening with Cuban balseros and others like the athletes and doctors who had left the island, I went after the injustice in the same manner I had fought the Bush measures.

I am glad to say that this move by the Cuban government has remedied a problem that had existed for too long. And I congratulate them.

Lessons were learned from this ordeal, at least I did. Patience is required. And although I knew that, I am one of those persons who can easily blow his fuse. I had to bite my tongue several times. I’m glad I did. Also, on this mission, giving up hope was not on my agenda. It served me well.

I received a number of phone calls and messages the days following the announcement. Most thanked me for my advocacy. I must admit that mine was just a tiny piece of sand in an ocean full of persons, some who worked much, much harder than I did, to get this done. Still, to those persons who reached out, I say thank you.

There are others in Miami, Washington and Havana who I must extend my gratitude. They know who they are. There’s no need to name names.

Finally, to the many balseros and others who will finally get their chance to return to the island of their birth, I have one simple request: Those who are by now U.S. citizens and hopefully registered to vote, please make sure you do so next week, on Nov. 6.

And when you’re voting make sure you cast your ballot for President Barack Obama. If he were to lose, let me remind you, his opponent has promised to revert back to the W. Bush policy where you will only be allowed to visit family members on the island but once every three years.

After all the hard work and all that has been accomplished, that would be a travesty.