The rest of the country may not be as interested in Miami's diaspora communities, but a hop, skip and a jump from U.S. soil, storms are brewing and I'm not talking natural disasters. These are man-made.
Cuba is only 90 miles away from us, nearly the same distance between the eastern tip of Cuba and the northern tip of Haiti. A friend recently told me you can see Cuba from Haiti on a clear day. When those islands sneeze, we catch a cold here in South Florida and they are doing a lot more than sneezing right now.
Seemingly without fear, Cubans are taking to the streets for the first time in decades demanding freedom, democracy, food and COVID-19 vaccines from their totalitarian government. In Haiti, the brutal assassination of the president in his home, the result of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving at least two dozen people, leaves a power vacuum in an island nation on the verge of anarchy that was already overrun by murderous gangs. Both countries are financially bankrupt, suffering from food shortages, widespread hunger and longstanding political corruption, and are experiencing varying degrees of coronavirus spread.
Hundreds have been arrested in the recent Cuban uprising, remain in jail, are expected to be tortured and may disappear for good. What would lead people to risk their lives in a brutal, totalitarian regime, you may ask? I asked the same question to a friend who grew up in communism, emigrated from Cuba just 15 years ago and has many family members still on the island. Her response is simple – they have nothing left to lose.
“I’m being told ‘We're either going to die of hunger or die of COVID, so if we're going to die, we may as well die fighting,’” she said. Such is the Cuban spirit, for those unfamiliar with it. The recent battle cry was born and is being led by a group of Afro-Cuban artists. Cuba today is majority Black and mixed-race, unlike Miami Cubans who are mostly white.
Haiti became the world's first Black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state when it defeated the French and slavery in 1803. It took Cuba another 100 years to defeat colonialism. Both nations have a history of slavery. By the time of the French Revolution, the population of enslaved persons in Haiti was somewhere between 500,000 and 700,000. About 800,000 enslaved persons were imported to Cuba – twice as many as those shipped to the United States.
Both countries have been led for more than a century by morally vacant leaders, suffering one military takeover or violent coup after another. Power is more likely seen through the barrel of a gun than at the ballot box in both Haiti and Cuba. Whether the politics lean right or left makes no difference. A dictator is a dictator just the same. It's all the more reason why recent calls for military intervention by Cuban and Haitian exiles in the diaspora are so infuriating and disappointing, for it proves that they have learned nothing. Perpetuating a cycle of violence will not bring democracy to either nation. Might does not make right and violence begets violence.
It is why both countries’ economies are in shambles. Who wants to do business in an unstable nation? Haiti's lack of infrastructure, adequate health care, corruption, and penchant for violence and kidnappings makes it undesirable for business investment. Cuba has burned every bridge by stiffing its lenders, destroying their credit and making it impossible to borrow money to buy food and medical supplies. People are reportedly dropping dead of COVID-19 in the streets. Its famous tourist industry is lost to the pandemic. This is the perfect opportunity for the Biden administration to abandon the U.S. embargo of Cuba to show the world we are not to blame for the island nation’s current condition, and to eliminate Cubans’ ability to make us the bogeyman, as it has done for decades.
What Cuba and Haiti need now is humanitarian aid and compassion, along with ethical leaders, and policies that promote peace and prosperity. Some of that we in the U.S. and the rest of the world can help with, the rest must come from within. Meanwhile, here in Miami we must resist the urge to run to our own corners and realize that we are more alike than we are different.
Emily Cardenas is the executive editor of The Miami Times. She previously worked as a producer at WTXF in Philadelphia and at WSCV, WFOR and WPLG in Miami.