Last night, President Obama made history by being the first President in almost a century to visit Cuba. Many Americans, and especially those in the Cuban community, view this trip is a mistake. I, on the other hand, am a Republican and a Cuban-American who believes that President Obama's trip to Cuba is a much needed step in bringing democracy and freedom to the island of my ancestors and I’m here to tell you why.
In 1959, the revolution succeeded and Fidel Castro became the President of Cuba. My uncle, Mario Chanes de Armas, fought alongside him in the revolution. He was a small business owner who believed in Castro because he believed that they were fighting for freedom and democracy (we all knew he was wrong).
My uncle lead the opposition against Fidel and was soon imprisoned 30 years for it. He led hunger strikes in his jail cell, he would often go naked so that he would not have to wear the uniform of the common criminal. He continued to lead the charge through civil disobedience. He completed his sentence and sought asylum in the United States, where he continued his fight until he died in February of 2007.
In 1967, my grandmother changed the course of my family’s history by boarding a plane to Miami with my mother and aunt. On that day, my grandmother bid farewell to the island of her parents and grandparents and my mother was forced to bid a final farewell to her beloved father. For freedom.
I know how painful President Obama’s trip is for so many Cubans because it is written in my family’s history, but many need to understand that ignoring Cuba has not worked nor will it ever work. Holding on to hate will not help anyone, and only capitalism and modernity can help Cuba. As Republicans, we know the incredible power capitalism and the free market can have on a society. When Nixon opened relations with China, millions of people were lifted out of poverty, and I know the same can be done for Cuba.
Nevertheless, dissidents and political opponents, like my uncle, are still being imprisoned. Cubans do not have access to the Internet or other basic necessities needed in a modern world. I understand that this is going to take time and that 54 years of Cold War tensions and political animosity between two nations cannot be erased in 2 days.
America has put itself into a position of leverage. By opening up relations, the United States will be able to demand certain things, such as free elections. Raul Castro knows his regime is unsustainable and is going to end. If they truly believed in their regime, Obama wouldn't be in Havana right now.
My fellow Cuban-Americans and Republicans, remember that capitalism and modernity are power tools that we have at our disposal. Through capitalism, Cuba will finally be free.
Cuba Libre, Willy