Mr. President, when will the Cuban embargo finally end?
Above: Cuban children strike a pose
One of the most surprising things I encountered in Havana during my 2006 trip was that one could buy Coca Cola in a few of the touristy shops.
Good ole’ American Coke. Probably the most original and identifiable symbols of American capitalism.
When I asked the lady behind the counter how was it possible through the embargo, she told me that it was “hecho en Mexico” – made in Mexico - so it was able to slip through the five-decade old American embargo against Cuba on a technicality.
While it is true the Coca Cola Bottling Company has a plant in Mexico as well as in many other countries, all profits are funneled back to its headquarters in Atlanta, which defies that original intent of the embargo that forbids American companies from conducting business with Cuba.
But the American government has never allowed a little hypocrisy to get in the way of Big Business.
Detained by U.S. Customs
I tried to use that same logic as I returned to Miami from Havana through the Bahamas, figuring that as long as I utilized an intermediate country to return to Miami, then I wouldn’t be guilty of violating the embargo. It didn’t work. I ended up detained for almost an hour in a U.S. Customs backroom in the Bahamas. My bags were searched. My pockets were emptied. And I was threatened with the absurd notion that I would not be allowed back into the United States.
A few months later, I received a warning letter from the U.S. Treasury Department threatening me with fines and imprisonment if I dared return to the forbidden land, which is only 90 miles from the southern tip of Florida.
After all, I had spent about $300 during my week in Cuba, so I had single-handily kept the Castro regime afloat that week. At least that is what they tried to lead me to believe.
On the other hand, the Coca Cola Bottling Company rakes in more then $10 million a year from Cuba sales, according to Cuba Travel Info.
But considering you can’t make a Cuba Libre cocktail without Coke, perhaps this minor inconsistency in the law is, in reality, some genius scheme to bring democracy to the island.
After all, look at the wonders American Big Business has done in bringing democracy to China.
Cuban woman shows off her affinity for Cuban cigars
The truth is, neither isolationistic blockades nor capitalistic bombardment will bring true freedom to Cuba.
True freedom begins with an exchange of ideas and dialogue that cuts through borders and social classes. It begins from the bottom up as well as from the top down and doesn’t seek to abolish the upper class nor wish to oppress the lower class.
It encourages egalitarianism but not by forcing everybody into poverty, as Castro did, and not by forcing people into sweatshop as China does, but by lifting and encouraging the lowest common denominator into reaching their fullest potential.
True freedom removes economic, cultural, political and geographical barriers as it did when the Berlin Wall was brought down in 1989.
True freedom doesn’t discriminate. Nor does it subordinate.
Despite what they will tell you in Little Havana, Cuba has never experienced true freedom. And many would argue that neither have we.
One of the most telling statements I heard in Havana came from a young man I befriended named Dairel Perez, a Cuban bagpiper whom I met along the Malecon, the famed sea wall in Havana.
And both embargoes have done nothing but provide political fodder for politicians on both sides of the Florida straits for almost 50 years.
Above: Cuban bagpiper Dairel Perez believes there are two embargoes
Lift the embargo, already
So even though President Barack Obama earlier this week loosened travel and remittance restrictions for citizens with family in Cuba, he appears to be following in the same steps as his predecessors – all nine of them - who were unable to outlast Fidel Castro.
After all, Obama’s decision only reverted the policy back to how it was during the Clinton Administration before Bush tightened restrictions, essentially expanding freedoms to a small portion of American citizens while denying the rest of us of these same basic freedoms of being able to travel freely.
And that is not true freedom.
Because how can we promote true freedom abroad if we are unable to grant it at home?
Below and above are some of the photos Carlos Miller took during his 2006 visit.
Fishing boats with the famed Castillo de Moro in the background
Cuban fisherman fishing off el Malecon, Havana’s famed seawall.
Cuban taxi drivers
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"Mr. President, when will the Cuban embargo finally end?"