Sunday, April 24, 2011

Against the World

I created this montage shortly after my 2003 visit to Cuba, taking the photos from public sources and the ideas from a political cartoon I had seen at least a couple of administrations earlier. Yes, I have been to Cuba. As a resident of "the freest country on earth," this is one freedom I was very lucky to enjoy, thanks to a compromise that allows the freedom to a few, in exchange for keeping it off-limits to most. In 2004 -- desperate to widen the margin of the Florida "vote" -- George W. Bush took away most academic licenses, so even the sliver of freedom to travel has been reduced.

The anachronisms and paradoxes of U.S.-Cuba relations are manifest in a series of Cuba photographs collected for The Big Picture, the Boston Globe's new blog celebrating the vital work of photojournalists throughout the world. The 31 photographs -- most recent but some vintage -- tell a variety of stories, which is exactly the point. The high wall that successive U.S. administrations have erected between the people of the United States and Cuba mean that enormous potential for understanding is lost -- in both directions. The photo below, for example, shows a group of women gathered as dissidents within Cuba, while another introduces the viewer to dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez . It is difficult to imagine how isolating their country helps foster democratic movements of this kind.

A caption for another photo in the collection mentions that in October 2010, the United States joined Israel in opposing a United Nations resolution that called for the end of the embargo. As the Associated Press reported at the time (as distributed by the Christian Science Monitor),  a similar result had been reached 19 times in a row, with the U.S. convincing only its most dependent ally to vote with us and three additional allies (apparently also fairly dependent) to abstain from the vote. Aside from these five, all the other countries in the world -- 187 of them -- agreed on the resolution. This is not a resolution about the "goodness" or "badness" of one-party rule in Cuba. Such a question would spark much greater debate. Almost everybody in the world agrees, however, that the embargo does more harm than good.

Perhaps the case could have been made when Eisenhower or Kennedy was president, but President Obama has not offered an explanation of why Cuba should continue to be the only country in the world to which ordinary citizens of the United States (and some other nationals holding U.S. visas) do not have the freedom to travel.

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