Today, the U.S. flag flew over an American embassy in Cuba for the first time in 54 years. After the opening ceremony, Secretary of State John Kerry was anxious to walk through the streets of an open and free Havana. As he declared, “too many days of sacrifice and sorrow, too many days of suspicion and fear” have presided over Cuba since the fallout between the two countries. But the Obama Administration has promised to improve the situation in Cuba through their new arrangements. Some even claim that you can start seeing changes in the communist country now.
For years, the situation in Cuba has been so desperate that people try to leave the island by any means necessary. Even in the last few years, some build rafts out of tires to reach Miami. Still others take it to an extreme. Last year the desperation of three Cuban men led them to try to windsurf from the communist island to the U.S. Unfortunately, only one made it.
If Cuba is truly in the midst of a bright new era, as the administration contends, then why are so many prominent Cubans – many among the nation’s most privileged, such as athletes – still trying to flee their homeland? On July 15, four Cuban rowers attending the Pan American Games in Ontario quietly left their hotel rooms and defected to the United States. During the same games, two baseball players did not even make it to their game and defected during warm up.
Two weeks later, about half of Cuba’s field hockey team similarly disappeared, seeking sanctuary in Chicago. During the Gold Cup quarterfinal soccer match, Cuba’s national soccer team had not even settled down in Baltimore, when four players defected. As soon as the team won the game, other’s joined the list.
The high-profile defections came within days of President Obama rejoicing in the thaw in relations between America and Cuba and the reopening of the Cuban embassy – where a crowd offered jubilant chants of “Long Live Socialist Cuba!” in the middle of downtown Washington, D.C. Relations between the US and Cuban government have improved, but Cuba’s human rights remain the same.
Defections just signal that the Castro government is putting up a façade to make the rest of the world believe that they are better off. Human rights abuses are still taking place in the island. Only last week Cuban security forces arrested 90 activists. Freedom is still a luxury that most Cubans cannot afford. The Obama Administration’s negotiations and media coverage of the shift are putting the stories of oppressed Cubans further in the shadows.