It is an image instantly etched into the fabric of American history: President Barack Obama, flanked by an assortment of American aides and Cuban communist henchmen under the gray skies of Havana and the black shadow of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, one of the Revolution’s bloodiest murderers.
It is the dystopian image that the Cuban-American exile community has been protesting since President Obama landed in Havana on Sunday, taking the streets of Miami to demand respect for their suffering. President Obama’s visit to Cuba, the first of its kind since the Calvin Coolidge administration, has already seen him shake hands with dictator Raúl Castro and lay a wreath to Founding Father José Martí, who President Obama misquoted during his December 2014 speech announcing he was comfortable shaking hands with a head of state like Castro.
24 hours prior, Cuban-Americans in Miami assembled to mourn the image that would surely come. El Nuevo Herald reports that hundreds of members of the Cuban exile community and allies assembled in Miami before a monument dedicated to those who gave their lives at Bay of Pigs trying to liberate the island during the Kennedy administration.
“It is an insult to the rights of the Cuban people… we think that the way this normalization is happening, with unilateral concessions, is indirectly giving the Castro regime the green light to continue its repression,” Oswaldo Gutiérrez Boronat, the head of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, an exile group, told the newspaper.
While exiles protested in Miami, their relatives 90 miles away were beaten and tortured, whisked away to be kept silent hours before Air Force One landed. More than 50 pro-democracy activists were arrested Sunday after being publicly beaten by both Cuban police and a communist mob. Among them are some of Cuba’s most prominent dissidents: Ladies in White leader Berta Soler and her husband, Ángel Moya; the artist Danilo ‘El Sexto’ Maldonado; and Estado de SATS leader Antonio Rodiles.
The crime the women being arrested in this video are committing is chanting the word freedom: Libertad.
President Obama has responded with a photo op in front of Che Guevara and a tepid “¿que bolá?”
The President will watch a baseball game today alongside the puppetmaster of this police state. His Secretary of State, John Kerry, will meet with representatives of the world’s wealthiest non-jihadist terrorist group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), who still exist largely due to the benevolence of the Castro regime towards the Marxist organization.
The image of the President of the United States with head held high before Che Guevara is an especially painful one for Cuban exiles because Guevara was the mastermind behind much of the Revolution’s repression. Guevara introduced the idea of forced labor camps to Cuba: a place to “reform” those who believed in democracy, anyone who owned a small business and did not support the Revolution, LGBT- and Afro-Cubans, and anyone else who did not conform. Guevara harbored particular loathing for Afro-Cubans, writing extensively in his Motorcycle Diaries about the supposed inferiority of black people.
From his blueprint were born the UMAP: the Military Units to Aid Production, labor camps used to torture Cubans seeking a visa out of the country, looking to assemble opposition to Castro, or simply trying to live their lives as gays, capitalists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or other “undesirables.”
They did not like to talk about it, but my grandparents endured “volunteer work” in these agricultural camps to earn their visas to Spain to save my father. Our family is from a small beach town on the coast of Matanzas – far from farm people, though fairly poor. My grandfather owned a bicycle shop which was taken away during the Revolution. He was a petit bourgeoisie and needed to be “re-educated.”
They went easy on abuela; she had to pick oranges for 12 hours a day. My grandfather had to cut henequén, an agave-type plant that turns rock-hard in the night. Abuelo knew of many men who died working with him because they tried to navigate the henequén fields too early in the morning and were skewered on their steely spokes in the dark. Communist sympathizers still boast of Cuba’s henequén production to this day.
To paraphrase Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard, every Cuban family has a story like this. Oral tradition is all the Cuban exile community has left 56 years later, when families have been torn apart and American politicians on both sides of the aisle legitimize apathy towards the destruction of our small civilization. In a heartfelt column today, Le Batard puts into words the pain and disappointment of watching President Obama’s visit become an international celebration, “like watching a funeral morph into a party”:
I’ve never known anything but freedom. My grandparents and parents made sure that was so. But now my grandparents are dead, and my parents are old, and the Cuban regime that strangled them somehow lives on … lives on to play a baseball game with our country this week. America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family … as the rest of America celebrates it, no less.
Cuban Americans will continue to shout into the void of White House apathy towards their nearly six decades of exile. “Since the announcement of the policy change on the part of the Administration, there has been a significant increase in repression in Cuba, nothing has changed,” Silvia Iriondo, president of the group Mothers and Women against Repression, told Spanish newswire service EFE. Studies have shown a significant spike in arrests and violence against democracy activists since December 2014.
The group Vigilia Mambisa has staked out a spot in Little Havana, waving flags and demanding the suffering of the Cuban people be respected during this trip. “We are here to denounce Obama’s visit to Cuba,” a group representatives, Miguel Saavedra, told the Miami-based Martí Noticias. “When we got out of Cuba and came here, we became the big brothers of the people of Cuba, that is why we are here defending them always,” he added.
Members of the group held signs behind him reading: “Miserable Castroite Traitor Obama.” Some would argue they went easy on him.