The Blog

No Hay Libertad

3:50 PM, Nov 23, 2009 • By RACHEL ABRAMS
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I haven't been to Miami in a while, but it used to be that you could launch World War Three by stopping at a coffee stand in Little Havana and asking patrons sipping their cafecitos in peaceful harmony there, "Who's worse: Fidel or Raul?" Whether they'd been comrades-in-arms or fellow travelers of la revolución and fallen into disfavor with the Castro brothers for one reason or another, or they'd watched their friends being rounded up for prison and their own properties expropriated because of their unwillingness to sign on to comunismo, or they'd run afoul of the dictatorship for no discernible reason at all and escaped with their lives and the shirts on their backs, you'd need no more than two members of the exile community's older generation to get the war going, and it might still be going, in the beautiful warp-speed Spanish of the Cubans, long after you'd left.

There were factions within factions among the Cuban exiles I knew and loved as a child in New York, as well: Castro and his minions were corrupt murderers! Por supuesto! But had Batista and his cronies been any better? Had the revolution been necessary? Had it not? Even within families, even during celebrations-where tables groaned with food, gorgeous, outrageous piles of it; fantastically rhythmic music played, with the dancing a tiempo, on the downbeat, or a contratiempo, on the upbeat, and it was impossible not to jump to your feet, either way; folk singing, the very definition of "soul music," brought guests to tears; and loud conversations punctuated everything-furious exchanges over the minutiae of exile politics and the fate of those left behind could erupt without warning. One year, my best friend's birthday party was derailed when her father and her uncle had to be separated after one's sigh of nostalgia for Havana and the other's disgusted contempt nearly brought them to blows.

That was a long, long time ago. The generation that fled the revolution is growing old; many of their children have never seen the island; their grandchildren are having children of their own, and their political cares are distinctly American. And for the first time, all sorts of people in American politics and policy-with the tacit approval of the president-are advocating for a lifting of the five-decades-old travel ban.

But Fidel and Raul are still there, still imprisoning bloggers, press journalists, and human-rights activists in unspeakable conditions, still running the island like their personal gulag. Even Human Rights Watch says so. There is no liberty in Cuba! How will Americans of conscience travel there?