"In the year of our Lord 1314, patriots of Scotland, starving and outnumbered, charged the fields of Bannockburn. They fought like warrior poets. They fought like Scotsmen. And won their freedom." ~ Braveheart
On January 1st, 1959, Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista boarded a plane in Havana and along with many of his cronies who had used the power of government to enrich themselves, took off to the Dominican Republic (then ruled by fellow dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo). Under the bright Havana skies and all throughout the island, Cubans celebrated the fall of Batista and the arrival of Fidel Castro and his 'milisianos' (militia men). As throngs of Cubans celebrated, many others who had been part of the fallen regime boarded planes and boats headed for Miami . As time passed and Cubans became more acquainted with the 'new boss,' they discovered he was much the same as the 'old boss,' and in reality quite worse. Many professionals and business people joined their compatriots in exile throughout the Sixties. In 1980, Cubans again fled the communist Gulag en masse through the port of Mariel ; this was repeated in 1994 in what came to be known as the Cuban Rafter Crisis. Famous Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner recently referred to the 20,000 US visas granted to Cubans on the island as 'Political Prozac'; of course, he is free to comfortably oppose such a policy from exile. Cubans not only fled but also fought Castro's tyranny during the Bay of Pigs , Escambray uprising and Operation Mongoose. What have Cubans both in exile and on the island been fighting for or fleeing to, over the past 50 years? Freedom. But what is ironic is that after nearly half a century in exile, many in the community still support the US embargo on Cuba and travel restrictions to the Pearl of The Antilles. The embargo has been in place for well over 40 years, yet Castro's hold on power over the Cuban people has not diminished one iota. Castro blames the embargo on the economic plight of the Cuban people, even though he trades freely with mostly every other country in the world. The failure of his economy is not due to the US embargo, it's due to the totalitarian system of rule he has imposed. Yet the embargo serves as a useful excuse and a distraction. Unfortunately, many Cubans in exile seem to believe in the viability of a socialist system. Though most consider themselves staunch conservative Republicans, they are quick to use and support socialist programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Public or Section 8 housing (surprised?). This deeply ingrained belief in the viability of a socialist system leads many exiles to mistakenly believe that lifting the embargo will allow Castro's archaic socialist economy to flourish. The lifting of the embargo will only rid Castro of an excuse for the failure of his revolution and will lead most likely to a self-imposed embargo (ridding him of at least one excuse). Castro is well aware (unlike many exiles) that the lifting of the embargo will not only rid him of a very useful scapegoat, but it will also serve to loosen his grip on the Cuban people. Many worry (as I do) that loosening the embargo will also bring US taxpayer backed credit to an infamous deadbeat. One can only hope that the US Government would not back credit granted to a tyrant who has seized private property in the past at the point of a gun. This could also lead to a more open debate on why the US guarantees any loans at all to other countries at taxpayers' expense. Speaking of taxpayers, the US government spends $27 million annually on Radio Marti and TV Marti. Both entities were named after Cuban apostate Jose Marti. TV Marti's signal has never reached the island in any consistent fashion since its inception in 1990. Radio Marti competes with other privately owned US stations, the signals of which also reach Cuba . The private broadcasters are preferred over Radio Marti by listeners in Cuba since they already get plenty of state-sponsored propaganda from their own Radio Rebelde. Just as ridiculous as the embargo are US travel restrictions to Cuba . In what mirrors Cuban control of movement on the islands through its Committees for the Defense of The Revolution (CDRs), American citizens and Cuban exiles must ask permission from the US government in order to travel to the island. Prior to last year's presidential election, in a move to appease a large segment of Cuban voters, President Bush tightened restrictions on travel to Cuba, with what are Kafkaesque regulations pertaining to how many times one can travel within a certain period of time, defining who is and isn't a relative, and limiting the amount of money one can spend daily while in Cuba. The result has been a rush of conversions to the Santeria religion (an Afro-Cuban mix of Catholicism and voodoo) since religious expeditions are mostly exempt from these restrictions. Recently some Cuban exiles in the United States (many of whom support the embargo and travel restrictions) have begun to plan a trip to Cuba in order to stand side by side and show solidarity with dissidents on the island. But before they can travel to their homeland, these exiles who are in a great majority law-abiding citizens of the United States (my father is among them) must ironically fill out forms and obtain the approval of the US State Department. Castro will more than likely deny entry to these exiles, but that is expected from a ruthless, power-crazed tyrant, not from 'the land of the free and the home of the brave.'