In view of the natural disasters that have lately befallen Cuba, compounded, as they are, by the regime's wilful abandonment of the island's infrastructure which has made the Cuban people infinitely more vulnerable to the effects of a Gustav or a Hannah than was ever the case before 1959, when there were no buildings in imminent danger of collapse before a hurricane struck nor a lack of basic supplies to combat and survive it, the question on most people's minds, or, at least, in the minds of Cuban exiles still sensible to the suffering of our countrymen, is how to relieve it.
That this is even a question shows what a unique set of facts confronts us when we attempt to penetrate the wall which Castro has erected between the Cuban people and the outside world. This wall exists to hide from the world the misery of the Cuban people and from the Cuban people the world's concern and disposition to help them. One would suppose that a time of national emergency the regime would lower or even dismantle that wall if only for the duration of the emergency; but in fact its efforts at such times are geared to shoring it up because its first priority is not to protect the people from natural or man-made disasters but to shield them from being "compromised" by the well-intentioned charity of others. When Cuba most needs the world's help, the regime is most wary of the world.
It's in the regime's interest to make the Cuban people feel that they are alone in the world, isolated and besieged even at the moment of their greatest need, and with no one to turn to but those who look upon their suffering as an opportunity to intensify their bondage. It's not just the labels on food packages that are considered subversive, though "Donated by the people of the United States," or by any other "non-fraternal" people whose largesse is unwelcome by the regime, is the tangible refutation of a half-century of Castroite propaganda. The labels could be easily torn off; in fact, they are are torn off when U.S. aid is funnelled through some United Nations agency and the contents then sold in state-owned stores or re-gifted to third countries as Cuba's contribution to their relief efforts.
What is most objectionable to the regime, however, is the very idea that, for the first time since Castro assumed control of food distribution 47 years ago, Cubans might actually have full stomachs for a day, a week or a month; that the hurricane, despite its ravages, might provide them with a reprieve from their daily routine of scavenging for food from daybreak to dusk, in the hope of filling the pot that was empty today and will be empty tomorrow without the replication of their exertions. At concentration camps, also, prisoners were kept on the edge of starvation so that all their efforts would be channelled to obtaining the turnip or potato that might allow them to cheat death another day. Castro has adapted that policy to an entire nation. If he had ever fulfilled their material needs, Cubans might have expected more of him. The human spirit rebels against injustice when life is not a struggle to keep body and soul together; but when it is, the needs of body come before the needs of the spirit. Without life there is no hope; but hope by itself cannot sustain life. Those who chastise Cubans for not rebelling against the regime should remember that the only victory within their grasp is to survive it. That, too, was the only victory available to the survivors of Weyler's camps.
How, then, can we alleviate the suffering of our countrymen on the island when we are barred from even mailing them a food package by those holding them hostage? We cannot depend on foreign countries because their assistance is neither wanted nor welcome; and, if accepted, will not be directed to those who need it. The obstacles which the regime has put in place to discourage donor nations will not stimulate munificence on their part when a token gesture elicits a more favorable response than the most generous offer.
Now, as always, it is Cuban exiles who have the greatest interest in the survival of our countrymen on the island. The most effective means at our disposal is still remittances. Yes, the regime will not declare a moratorium on usury because of the hurricane and shall, as usual, take its 10 or 20 percent off the top from all monies sent to Cuba. The rest, too, will eventually find its way into its coffers because in Cuba there is no trickle down, only trickle up. But the regime will get its hands on that money only after it has alleviated the suffering of millions of our people, and made them less, not more, dependent on it. The choice is not between starving the regime and starving the Cuban people, as I myself once mistakenly believed. The regime will not be starved out of power; its resources are already sufficient to insure its own survival, which is all that matters to it. The Cuban people, whether they die in the thousands or in the millions, signify only collateral damage since all is expendable in Cuba and will be sacrificed to maintain the Castro dynasty in power.
There is nothing more subversive we can do than feed and clothe the Cuban people and our success will be measured by how far we can extend our efforts on their behalf. These are necessarily hampered by the restrictions on remittances put in place by the Bush administration, which limited the amount that could be sent to relatives in Cuba and defined which relatives were eligible to receive assistance. The Cuban concept of family has resisted Castro's worst attempts to deconstruct it. By limiting "family" to parents and siblings, Bush in effect accomplished what Castro never could -- the dissolution of the extended Cuban family. In Cuba, family transcends even blood; it is a maze of inter-relations based on kinship but not restricted to it which has enabled even those without children to survive. To splinter the Cuban family is to weaken the Cuban people's strongest line of defense against the regime. Everything that strengthens it has the reciprocal effect of weakening the regime.
Bush's restrictions on remittances have allowed Barack Obama to become the spokesman for their elimination. Of course, he couldn't care less about remittances or the welfare of the Cuban people. It is the elimination of the trade embargo and resumption of relations with Communist Cuba which concern him and his foreign policy managers. Obama has called on President Bush to suspend temporarily the provisions of the U.S. trade embargo in response to the devastation wreaked by Gustav in Cuba. He did not request that Raúl Castro remove the barriers that have been put in place to hinder the provision of humanitarian aid to the island. When Obama asked for the suspension of the embargo what he really wanted was the extension of lines of credit to the regime, which is the only aspect of bilateral trade which the embargo currently proscribes. Or, to put it another way, Obama wants the U.S. to offer "remittances" to Castro himself while cutting out the middle men (i.e. the Cuban people), though eventually saddling them with the debt for underwriting their oppression.
Cuban exiles, as always, find ourselves in an untenable position, and within its narrow confines, we must decide what is best for our people.