Because so much is happening in various countries around the world, most news about Cuba falls to the bottom of the priority list. In the last few days, however, Cuba news has had one of its irregular “spurts” because American endurance swimmer Diana Nyad has been trying to be the first person to swim outside of a shark cage from Cuba to Key West, Florida. This has been her 4th and probably final attempt. If she would have succeeded, she would have arrived tomorrow on her 63rd birthday.
Unfortunately, she did not succeed in this near-impossible goal, and was pulled from the water early this morning, because of hypothermia, jellyfish stings, lightning, and exhaustion. She is still a heroine to many of us 60+ observers.
Because of her publicity, however, I have received a number of questions about what has been happening in Cuba to facilitate this project. American TV newscasts showed her sendoff in Cojimar (not Havana, as widely reported). There was a party-like atmosphere, with Cuban and American flags waving over the crowds. One reader asked me if Diana left from the U.S.-occupied Guantanamo naval Base, which is 400 miles to the east, and on the south side of the island. Another reader asked if “those people flying American flags would get in trouble.”
These questions remind me about the lack of general knowledge about Cuba by most Americans. I believe it is this lack of knowledge, perhaps more than anything else, which continues to block normalization of relations between our two countries. Cuba is NOT North Korea. Certain activities, for example–having an illegal satellite TV dish–may result in a fine in Cuba. In North Korea, it is punishable by execution. Cubans in most of the country, including Havana, listen to radio stations in Miami which broadcast in Cuban Spanish. (They shouldn’t be confused with Radio Martí, which sucks up tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars, and broadcasts one-sided political propaganda to the island. The Cuban government tries to jam the signal, whenever possible, resulting in broadcasts reportedly reaching less than 1% of the Cuban population. The few Cubans who manage to hear Radio Martí broadcasting that “the vast majority of Cuban-Americans want the embargo continued,” can then tune into mainstream Miami radio and discover that polls show a majority of Cuban-Americans in south Florida actually want the embargo ended.)
Cubans can send and receive email from their relatives in the U.S., and relatives from Miami arrive as visitors in great numbers daily, bringing with them much-needed supplies and stories of what life is like in the U.S. Increasingly they are reporting how difficult it is to just “get by” in a country and state in the middle of what looks like the second great depression. Still, most younger Cubans would emigrate to America, Canada, or Spain if given the chance. They are just tired of being teased every few years by reports that “things are getting better” when they aren’t.
Returning to the images of Diana jumping into the water in party-like surroundings, with Cuban and American flags waving overhead: you’ll see American flags flying at various locations around Cuba. Cubans feel that Old Glory represents the people of the United States. They really like us American citizens, but many of them just don’t like or respect the U.S. Government. Ironically, many of us here in The States feel the same way, but for different reasons.