Thursday, May 20, 2010

The (Grand)Children of the Revolution: The U.S. Can't Turn a Deaf Ear Anymore

Here are two clips from Carlos Montaner's new documentary, "The Grandchildren of the Revolution," followed by an editorial in the Miami Herald by Tomas Bilbao, Executive Director of the Cuba Study Group.

The U.S. can't turn deaf ear anymore

BY TOMAS BILBAO, The Cuba Study Group (

For too long, the debate over U.S. policy toward Cuba has been dominated by narrow arguments at the two extremes. They either ignore Cubans' demands for desperately needed change in their country's failed system or appeals for necessary changes in U.S. policy. Both sides have been successful in turning a deaf ear to the fact that Cubans on the island are calling for change -- and not only in Cuba.

For those who would turn a blind eye on the suffering of the Cuban people, it is easy to overlook the desperate calls of countless Cubans who, through their voices and actions, have made clear the need for fundamental changes in the Cuban system. Meanwhile, defenders of the status quo work hard to ensure that the overwhelming majority of voices from the island calling for change in U.S. policy are never heard, lest they undermine their efforts to ensure nothing ever changes in Washington or in Miami.

Fortunately, Cubans are finding new ways to make their messages of change heard through increased contact with Cuban Americans and other travelers, blogs, social media and provocative documentaries such as The Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution, released this week by filmmaker Carlos Montaner, son of prominent Spain-based columnist Carlos Alberto Montaner.

This thought-provoking 60-minute documentary provides a window into the lives of Cuban youth and their desire for change at a time when the island nation faces one of its most difficult periods in half a century. It follows average Cubans as well as well-known activists such as Yoani Sánchez, Claudia Cadelo, Dagoberto Valdés and artists such as Silvito El Libre, Los Aldeanos and Gorki Aguila, providing direct accounts of the deep disconnect between the 51-year-old revolution and Cuban youth today.

While most of the film features the attitudes of Cuban youth toward the revolution -- apathy or outright rejection of it -- an important part of it features prominent dissidents calling for fundamental changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba: ``I believe if the United States lifted all the sanctions, financial ones too, the Cuban government is going to be in dire straits. I don't think they'd know what to do about it,'' says Cuban author and blogger Claudia Cadelo, a protégé of Yoani Sánchez.

Prominent lay Catholic activist Dagoberto Valdés says: ``I believe the U.S. embargo needs to be lifted and allow the free flow of U.S. citizens and Cubans and companies, because I believe that opens the country.''

These statements echo those of many other dissidents not in the film, including Miriam Leiva a founding member of the Ladies in White and Oswaldo Payá, the leader of the Varela Project.

While these brave dissidents risk their lives calling for changes in U.S. policy as profound as the total lifting of all U.S. sanctions, the U.S. Congress continues to debate whether much more modest steps, such as allowing American citizens to travel to Cuba, would be in the best interest of human rights and democracy on the island.

The time for turning a deaf ear on Cuban dissidents is over. The power of the Internet and powerful documentaries, such as The Grandchildren of the Cuban Revolution, are allowing brave Cubans to have their messages of change, in Cuba and in Washington, heard around the world. It's time that everyone started listening to them.

If we are serious about bringing about change in Cuba, we can no longer afford to listen to Cubans' calls for change in their government, but turn a deaf ear when they call for changes in U.S. policy.

Tomás Bilbao is executive director of the Cuba Study Group in Washington.

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