The Miami Herald
November 29, 2001

Cash to Cuba is a moral choice

Liz Balmaseda

There's an old joke that's told in Cuba to illustrate the forced duality in the island's population of 11 million.

 "You know,'' it goes, ¨there are really 22 million Cubans in Cuba -- the 11 million you see on the street and the 11 million who stay inside.''

 This Cuban Double Personality Syndrome isn't confined to the island. It has spread across the exile community as well. On some level, those of us who live on the inside of that community know its contradictions. They simmer beneath political layers too complex to explain in a prime-time TV sound bite.

 Sunday night, CBS's 60 Minutes took a stab at exposing one of this population's most glaring examples of Double Personality Syndrome: how Cuban Americans, the most vocal supporters of the embargo, pump hundreds of millions of dollars each year into the coffers of the Fidel Castro government.


 In broad, often simplistic strokes, the newsmagazine described a situation so deeply rooted and rampant that, to us on the inside, it's just a fact of life. People here send loads of cash to the other side. The most-cited estimate: close to $800 million each year, representing Cuba's second-largest source of income.

 It's no wonder that fact would astound anyone on the outside, where we are often labeled as isolationist in our attitudes toward Cuba.

 This "isolationist'' community is more engaged with the Cuban people, more dedicated to making their living conditions better, more attentive to their needs and their
 desperation than any other community.

 It's something we don't talk about much. The reason we don't talk about it is that it has nothing to do with politics -- much less the established political line. It has to do with blood ties and moral obligations.

 The 60 Minutes folks called the community's conflicted posture and the class system it promotes in Cuba a "Catch-22.''

 Indeed, it is a paradox. But, more than an apparent trap, there's an important trend unfolding.


 "We are the ones who are engaged in Cuba. We need to tell that story,'' said Damian Fernandez, a Florida International University professor of international relations who was quoted extensively in the 60 Minutes story.

 His book, Cuba and the Politics of Passion, published last year by the University of Texas Press, poses this exile dilemma: What do you do when you're torn between "the politics of passion and the politics of affection?''

 The brand-new appliances in the Havana homes, such as those visited by 60 Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl, answer that question. You choose affection. Hands down.

 The report offered two high-profile examples of unlikely folks who chose affection. There was conservative, pro-embargo talk-show host Tomás Garcia Fuste, who sends money to his brother.

 "I don't want my brother to die,'' he told the reporter.

 And there was Castro's own sister, Juanita, a Miami pharmacist, who sends medicine to her -- and the dictator's -- sisters in Cuba. Yet she remains a vocal foe of her brother's regime.

 "Somehow, this makes sense from our moral universe,'' Fernandez said. ``We have these two moral compasses, and they make sense to a lot of us.''


 But Fernandez also questions this "dual code of the public and the private.''

 "Sometimes we don't analyze the repercussions of having those codes,'' he said. "We have to realize that there are public consequences to our private codes.''

 Those who make policy should also take note of that. It shouldn't take a 60 Minutes report to point out the unstoppable trend toward engagement.

                                    © 2001