Listen Up, America: Don't Get Cuba Wrong Again

Listen Up, America: Don't Get Cuba Wrong Again

Ahead of Obama's visit, Cubans are hungry for capitalism.

Then there’s the Bay of Pigs. Really, we thought it was a good idea to arm 1,400 disgruntled Cuban exiles, put them in boats and launch them towards Cuba—just on their word that the Cuban population would promptly rise up and overthrow Castro? (Sound familiar? Americans seem never to learn that expatriates have their own agendas and are not our most accurate source of political information.)

This bright little idea cost almost two hundred young Cubans their lives, as they rushed to the beaches to defend their country. The stark white stone markers that denote the place where each one fell, and that remain scattered around the bay and the surrounding landscape, make a far more moving statement than the antiquated agitprop in the adjacent museum.

We’ve made a lot of mistakes in Cuba in the past. And unfortunately it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which we will now commence to make new mistakes, to the detriment of Cuba, and with the result of alienating a country that at this moment wants few things more intensely than good relations with us.

The less happy scenarios aren’t that farfetched, sadly. If change is injudicious—too fast, too uneven, too repetitive of past mistakes, too insensitive to local needs and values—this can end badly. I personally witnessed the probably very last thing I was expecting to see in Havana: a troop of Muslim fundamentalists attempting to proselytize on the street to a baffled young group of locals. And recently, someone has built a large, at the moment cavernously empty, mosque in downtown Havana, a puzzling presence in a country exclusively populated by Catholics and socialist atheists.

For now, all eyes and all hopes are on the United States, awaiting renewed ferry traffic to Miami, a fast internet, foreign currency, opportunities for business, additional political parties and real newspapers with actual news. But treat Cuba once more like the exploitable nobody next door, and Americans could end up with a hostile beachhead right on their front step.

Oh, and that Museum of the Revolution? Right next to the enormous Cuban flag in the entrance hallway you will also find a marble bust of Abraham Lincoln. Remember, everyone? We had a revolution too, and a rending civil war against social injustice, and when we’re not supporting “our son of a bitch” we favor the democratically elected, and we, too, fight for equality. Braverly.

Cheryl Benard has written widely on political Islam. Her most recent book Eurojihad, Cambridge University Press, October 2014, predicted increased Islamist violence in the West.

Image: Cheryl Benard