We have much to do!

By Rolando Castañeda and Lorenzo Cañizares

(Editor’s Note: This is a response to the column written by Progreso Weekly’s Germán Piniella, in which he referred to the article written by Castañeda and Cañizares.)

Some days ago, we wrote an article titled “President Obama; his latent example and inspiration for Cuba.” Its central theme was that President Obama has a firm attitude to solve several problems concurrently facing the United States, and wants to do so by looking to the future, not getting bogged down in problems of the past, and by building positive consensus to achieve this.

Additional points:

  • Cuba confronts several critical problems acknowledged by President Raúl Castro himself;
  • there is an internal paralysis that prevents their solution;
  • a normalization of relations with the United States is important and possible;
  • the diaspora can make a valuable contribution to achieve that normalization;
  • the most dangerous enemy the Government of Cuba faces is not the current U.S. administration or the diaspora but the immobile and intransigent stance of the domestic Talibans;
  • we share these positions with the academicians and intellectuals and dissidents on the island, and with many compatriots in the diaspora.

When Mr. Germán Piniella criticized our article, instead of addressing and rebutting our central themes, he concentrated on several tangential themes. He went off on a tangent. Among other statements, he made an appreciation of historical perspectives that covered practically two centuries, even before the abolition of slavery; he was annoyed because we called Cubans abroad “the diaspora”; he considered that the diaspora, by being citizens of other countries, have nothing to contribute, and said that we agreed with Spanish Prime Minister Rodríguez Zapatero that it’s Cuba’s turn to move a chip, etc.

For several years now (more than we care to remember) we have posited that the Cuban nation needs a national dialogue and consensus to overcome several problems from the past that are becoming increasingly serious. Among them are:

  • family separation and the historical conflict that the new generations on both sides of the Straits of Florida do not understand, reject, and want to overcome;
  • the island’s need to improve its socioeconomic situation in line with the great potential provided by the Cuban people’s good education, initiative and ingenuity;
  • the need for Cuba and the U.S. normalize their trade relations, because small countries like ours can derive great benefit from international trade with large neighboring countries, in accordance with the gravitational theory of international trade; and
  • the need to repeal the embargo and normalize bilateral relations without prior conditions.

Referring to historical themes that we consider to be tangential, we consider that:

1. The Batista government was a national disaster (a major mistake and a horror), and we’re not in the slightest interested in rehabilitating it because, in our opinion, that’s impossible.

2. We have never supported the 1901 Constitution. As Christian socialists, we identify with the 1940 Constitution because of its progressive and social character, and because — unlike the 1976 Constitution — it was the result of a great national debate and consensus.

3. The government of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a different attitude toward Cuba and Latin America, similar to the one held now by President Obama, repealed the Platt Amendment, except for the return of the Guantánamo Base. We would miss a great historical opportunity, particularly in the new Latin American and U.S. Congressional context, if we didn’t take advantage of Obama’s presidency (which will surely last eight years) to normalize our bilateral relations and recover the Guantánamo Base. Our predecessors, shrewdly and happily, used the inter-American meeting in Montevideo in 1933 to achieve the repeal of the Platt Amendment.

Dear friend Germán, to end, let us reiterate and agree with President Raúl Castro’s statement in Brasília: “The world would be very boring if all of us had to think alike about everything.

Difference is a virtue. The point is to express our differences with dignity, respecting others — quite simply — but demanding that we ourselves be respected.” This attitude has characterized President Obama’s public life. We might only add: let us concentrate on what’s substantive and significant. We have much to do!

Rolando H. Castañeda is a Cuban-American economist who retired from the Inter-American Development Bank. He lives in Washington, D.C. Lorenzo Cañizares is a Cuban-American labor leader who is a specialist on organization for the Pennsylvania State Education Association. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa.