The news a few weeks ago that the Cuban diplomatic mission in Washington plans to invite a number of “respectful” Cubans living in the United States to a meeting in late April — together with the upcoming visit to Cuba by Pope Benedict XVI — has ignited the customary round of byzantine discussions and name-calling within our Cuban exile community.
One of those debates — more interesting and entertaining than the ever-ending Republican primary — circles around the idea that whether you are just a regular Joe or the head of the Catholic Church, to meet with the Cuban authorities (even to visit Cuba, in the eyes of the “true believers” in our midst), is to legitimize the Cuban regime.
Those who condemn the legitimizers among us are the same who for the past 30 years have called any Cuban exile who tries to interact with the Cuban authorities a “ dialoguero,” a brand that has been courageously borne by some of the best and noblest members of our community.
Still, the evidence of any legitimizing effect these disciples of Socrates and Plato may have had in the way American public opinion and a succession of American governments view Cuba’s government seems minimal at best. Whereas the recalcitrant attitude of the censors of any and all sensible new approaches to resolve our differences with Cuba has visibly eroded the image of the exile community in the eyes of American (and world wide) public opinion.
The Pope, on the other hand, as the pastor of a universal church, is naturally immune to the legitimization argument. His pastoral role emphasizes the need to reclaim those sheep that are lost, so he needs to go after them. He is not afraid of the contact with sinners; on the contrary, he welcomes that contact.
Thirty years ago, in the aftermath of the war over the Malvinas islands (a.k.a. Falklands), Pope John Paul II, in the early stages of his long papacy, mediated a brewing conflict between Chile and Argentina, visiting the latter (he visited Chile in 1987) and meeting with their rulers. Back then, Argentina and Chile had governments that exchanged political prisoners, and took their tortured political opponents (just a few of them violent terrorists) in plane rides that inevitably ended in the passengers having been dropped alive over the ocean, in order to leave no trace of them.
Shockingly enough, I have seen some of those who ardently clamor for the need to deprive the Cuban government of any legitimacy marching down Miami streets on behalf of a detained Pinochet, grounded in London by the arm of “Garzonian justice.”
Were those South American governments legitimized by the papal visits and mediation efforts? Could their actions ever be legitimized?
The same applies to Cuba. There are certain acts of the Cuban revolution that will never be legitimized, since they are bound to live forever in the Cuban people’s collective memory. But the Cuban government is in no need of the kind of legitimization some of us want to deprive it of. All it takes is a quick look at how it fares in the United Nations General Assembly every time the topic of the American embargo comes up.
I suspect I am not “respectful” enough to be invited to the meeting at the Cuban Interests Section in April, but if I am, I may not turn down their invitation. If we want to have a hand on the crafting of Cuba’s future, we need to realize that such an endeavor is, of necessity, a contact sport.
And I will not condition my presence if I decide to attend. But before I do decide, I need to know the specific agenda the meeting will cover. If it is just over consular affairs I may take a pass.
But if, as it is apparent, the hosts want to discuss other topics, such as the fate of the five Cuban spies, four of them still serving overly-harsh sentences in the U.S., then I will gladly join them.
I will ask them about the conditions in Cuban jails. Why is Cuba reticent to allow inspection of prisons by its critics if they have nothing to hide?
The mother of one of the “survivors” of the Baragüa ferry-hijacking attempt — the “lucky” ones, those who were spared the death penalty, paredón, in exchange for overly long jail sentences — has publicly said that she would rather have her son dead than living in the conditions he suffers in prison.
That is what dialogueros are good for, and why we need them. No one knows what the score will be at the end of the game or which players may fall to injury, but that is in the nature of contact sports.
By José Manuel Pallí, a lawyer and president of World Wide Title in Coral Gables.