Witnessing History


I confess.
If you ask me how old I am, I am not going to tell you the truth. Facebook has a number on my page, but call me Hatshepsut because I am queen of de-ni-al. I do not tell people how old my children are because they will know what a shameless liar I am when I talk about my age. The concept of real age was invented for me. This is where age is determined by good eating, exercise, and life-style choices. It is possible to age backwards.
That said, there are times when we must say what we know about the history that we have lived and witnessed. This ages us. Friday, August 14, 2015, I watched as Marines raised the flag of the United States of America over the US embassy in Havana, Cuba. It is a step on the road to normal relations between Cuba and the United States. This is something that is long overdue, and it is way past time to end the economic embargo against Cuba.
In the United States, we have a tendency toward what I call bogeyman foreign policy. We decide that an individual, group, regime, or nation is evil incarnate. We, the United State of America, are always the good guys in the story. We assign these roles without context or nuance. We ignore the inconvenient facts of history where US policies have made the situation worse. Heaven forbid a leader will say the truth. S/he will be accused of apologizing for the United States. Never mind that there are times when apologies are in order.
I was a little girl when Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution succeeded. I do not remember his first trip to the United States where he met Malcolm X and visited Harlem. I do, however, remember the Cuban missile crisis. My parents and the other adults in my world did their best to protect me from the magnitude of the moment. I had no idea that the world stood on the edge of nuclear war. I knew there might be a war with the Soviet Union. Before bed every night, I got down on my knees to pray while my mother listened. I remember praying that there would not be war. I worried about my Uncle A.C. who was a soldier. I had no concept of the geopolitical strategies or the import of an impending conflict. I only cared about Uncle A.C.’s safety. There was no war, and Uncle A.C. was safe.
Life moved on, and Cuba was not important to my life. In college in the early 1970s, I became aware of how the lives of people of color across the globe were connected in an anti-colonial and post-colonial historical reality. The civil rights struggle was not about civil rights alone, but it was about universal human rights. I studied W.E.B. Du Bois and the Pan-African Congresses of the first half of the 20th century. I studied Marcus Garvey, his Universal Negro Improvement Association, and the truth behind his slogan: “Africa for Africans.” I learned of Malcolm X and his understanding of the end of white world supremacy following the Bandung Conference of 1955.
After college, I watched the Angolan civil war, and I was happy that Cuba sent troops to fight against forces supported by South Africa and the United States. If the apartheid regime of South Africa was willing to fight on a particular side of a conflict, it must be good for them and bad for those who wanted to see an end to apartheid. The Castro regime supported Nelson Mandela when the United States and others called him and the African National Congress terrorists.
So, I have always been suspicious of the anti-Cuba hype in the United States. To my mind they were members of the African diaspora, working against colonialism and American imperialism. They were working to make life better for the wretched of the earth all over the earth. After the revolution, education and health care was free in Cuba. It has more physicians per capita than does the United States. It sends doctors all over the world to work in areas where doctors from other nations do not want to go, including sending doctors to treat Ebola victims in West African during the recent outbreak.
Cuba brings students from across the globe to Cuba and gives them a medical education for free, then sends them back home with the understanding that they will provide medical care for the poor. Students from the United States have acquired medical training through this program. I am aware of the critique that the Cuban government uses these doctors to make money from foreign governments and that the doctors lack the freedom to practice where they wish inside of Cuba. I have no problem with Cuba making money from the work of their doctors because they use the money for free education and medical care for its people.
I say the United States ought to take a page from Cuba’s book regarding the increased numbers of doctors we will need to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Let us give doctors a free college and medical school education with the stipulation that they serve at least five years giving care to those on Medicaid and to those who do not have health insurance.
Anyone who knows the history between the US and Cuba knows that the United States does not have clean hands. After the Spanish American war where the United States captured Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines, and after Cuban independence, US forces wanted to bring US values to the island. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, these values included American racism when it established an electoral system that kept Afro-Cubans out.
During and after prohibition, the United States turned Cuba into a corrupt US playground. Trade between the nations did nothing to end death-dealing income inequality. I know Cuba faces many human rights challenges. It is my hope that as this new relationship progresses, Cuba will be wise to advance democracy and a free civil society while it keeps a close eye on US businesses so that greater economic opportunity will benefit all of its people.
So, I was happy to witness history and to see the US flag go up over our embassy in Havana. I look forward to visiting Cuba, meeting its people, and seeing with my own eyes a truth beyond anti-Cuban propaganda.
Valerie Elverton Dixon in founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

3 thoughts on “Witnessing History

  1. I’m in favor restoration of diplomatic relations, by let’s no make Cuba look like a paradise. It still has human rights issue.It’s not a democracy, as system of government we embrace in the US.

  2. I know I should comment about Cuba — I’ll just say I agree with everything you said. Now, I can tell by what was going on with you during the missile crisis that you are about the same age as my daughter. I hope for your sake that by the time you are my age you have come to accept and respect your age. Otherwise, it is pathetic. You can be a fit and healthy 80 but you’ll be 80. Face it. 🙂

  3. Ms Mistretta,
    Thank you for making me laugh out loud at my own vanity. You are absolutely right. Every day and every year is a gift and I am grateful. I hope that I will be healthy and still participating in the public conversation when I am 80.

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