Friday, December 28, 2007

Preserving an Image Through Policy

When Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Miami this past August, and proposed a different US policy towards Cuba, Miami hard-liners reacted in ways that were very revealing. I also wrote then that Obama "had hit on something really big." The hard-line reaction and defense of current US policy revealed to me the fact that the hard-line Cuban exile identity was politically and psychologically dependent on the embargo.

After the Miami Herald printed Barack Obama's new policy towards Cuba, Al Cardenas, current political advisor to Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, appeared on Radio Mambi and articulated how it was an insult to the Cuban exile community for Barack Obama to express his views publicly here in Miami. He and radio host Ninoska Pérez-Castellón agreed it was "truly insolent." According to Cardenas, "now this man (Obama) has the audacity to reserve the same space, the same platform of Ronald Reagan, to give a speech on integration here in the heart of OUR community."

Armando Pérez-Roura, program director at Radio Mambi, was also deeply offended by Obama's comments, especially on the Cuban travel restrictions. But, Pérez-Roura found solace (yet again) in the writings of the "apostle" Jose Martí. In his daily radio address (Tome Nota- Aug. 22), Perez-Roura addressed "the scoundrels who settle for an arrangement with the criminal who has committed many crimes against our homeland," and responded to them with comments made by Jose Martí in 1887:

"War brought us here. And here our hatred towards tyranny keeps us, so deeply rooted within us, so essential to our nature, that we cannot tear it from ourselves without living flesh!"

"For what have we to go back there, when it is not possible to live with decorum, neither yet it seems the hour to return and be buried. Go to Cuba for what? To hear the lashes on the backs of men?"

"To see the repugnant association between the children of the heroes, of the heroes themselves, belittled in sloth, and the vices they flaunt in the face of those who should live with their back towards them, their disgusting prosperity?"

"To see the enlightened in shame, the honorable in despair, [...] the women with impure company, the farmer without the fruits of his labor?"

"To see an entire country, our country [...] dishonor itself with cowardice or an excuse? A stab is not enough to say how much that hurts. Return, to such shame?! Others can, we cannot!"

Luis Conte Agüero, on his TeleMiami television program, also gave a response to Obama and his new policy on Cuban travel restrictions. Conte Agüero, a former student of philosophy, revealed that some in the Cuban community may be torn about the travel restrictions, but nevertheless argued that this sense for humanity doesn't necessarily affect the position of the "intransigent." To Conte Agüero, the "intransigent" is forever loyal to the old Independence heroes like Martí and Maceo.

There's actually a thread that connects these reactions. They speak of an imagined Cuban exile as politically homogeneous, sharing one single history (of militancy), whose dignity is inextricably tied to the existence of one policy: the US embargo. Thus, if someone speaks out against that policy, then they disrespect the entire Cuban exile community.

This may explain the fierce reaction that some receive from hard-liners when one speaks out against US policy towards Cuba. The hard-liner may not only be defensive of the policy as a justified punitive measure, but also may be protecting an integral part of the imagined Cuban exile under attack. The image itself is also integral to the wider belief that the Cuban government is the official enemy, and the original and sole cause of exile.

The Cuban Adjustment Act is another policy that the imagined Cuban exile depends on. This past July, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart was on Radio Mambi with Armando Perez-Roura (Jul. 5) and spoke of the "responsibility to act like a political exile." That day, a caller to the show complained of those Cuban exiles who travel to Cuba shortly after receiving their residence through the act. Rep. Diaz-Balart agreed, saying that these people are abusing the Cuban Adjustment Act:

"Those who abuse [the Adjustment act] endanger the rights of all... All Cubans are treated in effect, by the Adjustment act, as POLITICAL asylees. And thus those who abuse that great privilege in going back to Cuba, traveling to Cuba, after receiving their residence by the act, endanger the act."

"By receiving that exceptional and extraordinary treatment that no other country in the world has, it bears [on exiles] the responsibility to act like a political exile." [MP3]

Just as the US embargo helps to reaffirm the Cuban exile identity (as victim of communism and the Cuban government), so does the Cuban Adjustment act operate in the same fashion. Any perceived attacks or doubts about the policies, also casts doubts on the Cuban exile image, and especially the hard-line image. And, that in itself is no different than a personal attack.

This interpretation also leads to other characteristics of the imagined Cuban exile who shares a unified politico-historical identity. If what Martí said in 1887 is an accepted belief of the "intransigent," or the hard-line Cuban exile, then it might infer that the Cuban exile is also hurting from shame. Or, as Marti put it: "a stab." And, this pain must be avoided at all costs. Armando Pérez Roura said it best after reciting Martí:

"For what have we to go to Cuba? To watch impassively the destruction, the crime, the insult, everything that has been done to the Cuban family? Everything that has been done to Cuba? No. Esteemed listeners, we must raise our voice to remind those who wish to relieve themselves of the responsibility, of what it means to experience the "Cuban drama" only 90 miles away, to shut their mouths. If they don't want to help us, then don't come with dishonest proposals. We won't accept them, no matter the price we pay." [MP3]

This dimension of victimization and shame may shed light on past violent episodes in Miami.


Cuba Journal said...

"Armando Pérez Roura said it best after reciting Martí"

You have gone from "watching" to promoting Perez Roura, and I have to respectfully ask you to remove the link to my blog from your page.

Mambi_Watch said...

There's a larger point to be made from this comment (which I thought was "best" at being revealing), but I will consider your wishes. But, allow me to finish my thoughts.