The news alert came in from my local newspaper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, on Friday, April 16, at 3:13 p.m. EDT: “Raul Castro to resign as head of Cuba’s Communist Party.” I expected the headline, but its last part was a punch to the gut. It read: “ending an era.”
Many headlines and news articles included this phrase that day. Last Friday wasn’t the first time the media has proclaimed the end of an era after a significant shift in Cuban politics, however.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, and especially in recent years, changes in Cuba and U.S. policy toward Cuba have regularly been heralded as the dawn of new eras, with democracy and reform on the horizon. Two clear examples of this occurred in 2016. First, former President Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to visit the island in decades. The media trumpeted his normalization of diplomatic relations with Havana as the end of an era, soon to bring an end to hostility between the United States and Cuba and the dawn of democratic and free market reforms.
Later on, Fidel Castro died November 25, 2016, the day after Thanksgiving. I woke up to the news alert on my phone and felt a real sense of hope. My fellow Cuban Americans evidently felt the same as I did. Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood went into immediate celebration, images of the revelry on Calle Ocho spreading around the world. Unsurprisingly, the media claimed Fidel’s death would end the era of the Castro family’s continued political dominance on the island, opening a window for democratization.
But nothing has changed in Cuba, and Raúl Castro’s resignation is no different.
I am so tired of reading about the ends of eras in Cuba when, for the last three decades, these lauded changes have failed to deliver results for the ordinary Cubans who suffer from the regime’s oppression. Mismanagement of the planned economy, severe food and medicine shortages, which persisted even after trade restrictions were loosened by the Obama administration, and dependence on remittances and foreign aid have brought the country to its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union. The new leader of the Communist Party, President Miguel Díaz-Canel, is Raúl Castro’s protege, cut from the same ideological cloth as the architects of Cuba’s decline.
Unfortunately, the narrative of change is only a symptom of a wider American ignorance of Cuban politics, one that only serves to worsen the trauma of Cuban exiles, many of whom barely survived crossing the Straits of Florida and the U.S.-Mexico border to escape the tyranny on the island. I am so tired not only of the headlines but also of seeing countless Georgetown University students parrot the Castro regime’s propaganda that falsely claims there is universal health care and quality education available in Cuba, when dissidents have proven the reality is far worse.
I am so tired of my peers’ discounting and erasing my experiences as an exile. I am so tired of the Che Guevara idolatry of so many young Americans. I am so tired of the romanticization of the revolution and the ideological revisionism that follows.
I am so tired of my peers’ silence, selective political empathy and lack of support for the Movimiento San Isidro, a collective of Afro-Cuban artists and musicians who have risked their lives to demand an end to the dictatorship over the last few months.
I am so tired of it all.
The recent change in leadership is not the end of an era, nor is it the beginning of reform in Cuba. Raúl Castro’s resignation, though certainly welcome, is not a victory. Instead, it is another painful reminder of how the regime, which has taken so much from Cuban exiles, will continue living through President Díaz-Canel.
The change in Havana will not bring back my abuela, who died September 13, 2019 — just three weeks after I came to campus as a first-year student — as a result of a completely treatable medical condition. My abuela, whom I only got to meet once in my life for a brief five-day visit because of the regime’s inhumanity, died at the hands of the regime and its shamefully unequal health care system, one that favors medical tourists and friends of the Communist Party.
The change will not bring back my cousin — like an aunt to me — who died in May 2018. Her son couldn’t even return to the island to bury his mother because of the regime’s insidious cruelty in regard to issuing visas and passports for Cuban-born exiles who fled the country.
The change will not bring back Oswaldo Payá and the many dissidents murdered and silenced over the years by the Castro regime. The change will not bring back the LGBTQ+ Cubans left to die of AIDS in concentration camps on Isla de la Juventud. The change will not bring back the 37 victims of the Cuban Coast Guard’s intentional sinking of the Remolcador “13 de Marzo,” many of whom were children fleeing with their families to the United States. The change will not bring back the countless others who, over the last six decades, have drowned in the Straits of Florida or died of thirst in the Arizona desert, risking everything across the stormy, inhospitable currents and inescapable wilderness in search of freedom. Castrismo, the political ideology of Fidel Castro’s followers, has robbed Cubans of so much, and this change will bring about no justice, no restoration and no healing.
There’s a Willy Chirino song often played in Miami during these history-making moments called “Nuestro día ya viene llegando.” It is a boisterous salsa song from just after the end of the Cold War, in which Chirino recounts his family’s immigration story during the early years of the diaspora and the long wait for an end to the dictatorship in Cuba. I decided to play “Nuestro día” when I saw the alert. No other song seemed appropriate. The chorus of the song comes on: “Nuestro día ya viene llegando / y ya todo el mundo lo está esperando.” Our day is coming, and the whole world now waits. Another punch to the gut.
Listening to it, I asked myself: Is that line even true anymore? Almost three decades later, our day is still coming and nothing seems to have changed in Cuba. Until Cuba allows a free press, free and fair elections and free enterprise, and until the last vestiges of Castrismo are excised from the country’s political culture, our day will not come. Only when these things change in Cuba will there truly be the end of an era.
Eric Bazail-Eimil is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.