This week, we commemorate the twenty-eighth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For decades, the wall divided Germans from friends and family. During that time, many Eastern Europeans seeking freedom from Soviet repression were killed trying to get past that wall into West Germany.
As they reflect on that seminal moment in our history, it would behoove U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and others in the Trump Administration talking tough about sanctioning Cuba to remember the Caribbean Island does not have a Berlin Wall.
Cuba doesn’t have good fortune, as a handful of Eastern Bloc countries did, to share a border with a democracy. The United States mainland may be ninety miles away, but that’s certainly not comparable.
For decades, Cubans desperate to escape the economic, artistic and personal repression of the Cuban government have tried their luck at sea- many unsuccessfully- in hopes of reaching the United States. They have no wall they can tear down or climb over, no Checkpoint Charlie they may be able to get through in a secret compartment of a car.
Mnuchin and others who support the embargo and tougher policies apparently have not been to Cuba.
Or if they have, they apparently have not had the conversations we had with small-business owners who are hurting in part because U.S. tourism has slowed since this summer, when President Trump first tightened the screws on travel to the Caribbean Island.
According to an Associated Press story, Mnuchin said of the new sanctions:
“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.”
These restrictions will do little to persuade the Cuban government into giving more freedom to entrepreneurs. In fact, successful businesses that compete against government-owned enterprises that may not be as lucrative are shut down.
The ineffective policies they’re supporting will do more harm than good to the Cuban people.
My husband, two friends and I recently traveled to Cuba and in addition to spending time in Havana, we went on a couple of side trips.
I was reminded of the incident I describe below when I saw this fire extinguisher while pumping gas at a gas station in Dallas.
Almost 45 minutes into our trip from Havana to Cienfuegos, our driver was stopped by a police officer. As I watched the exchange from the back seat, it became clear he was giving Rodolfo a hard time over some nonsense. Cab drivers are subjected to heavy controls in Cuba, and though I didn’t know him well, I figured Rodolfo wouldn’t risk not having his permits in order.
Apparently, cab drivers must carry a fire extinguisher in the car. Except that, as Rodolfo later explained to us, you can’t find functioning fire extinguishers in Cuba and that’s why he didn’t have one.
The officer repeatedly told Rodolfo he needed to have an extinguisher. Rodolfo told the officer he wanted to comply with the law, but could he tell him where to buy one?
This circular exchange went on for about fifteen minutes.
It took everything I had to stay in the car and not get involved, given my proclivity to want to run my mouth when I have no respect for authority. I was ready to pay a bribe, but wasn’t sure this cop was the type to take it and didn’t want to get Rodolfo in trouble.
In the end, the officer let him go with a warning.