Listen, Yankee! Why Cuba Matters

Tom Hayden – Based in part on conversations with Ricardo Alarcon – Seven Stories Press (2015)

My autographed copy!

My autographed copy!

Tom Hayden of SDS fame looks tired, and he doesn’t have the fire in the belly that I imagined I might see when I attended his talk at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore. I considered him a radical and mystical force of change when I was a teenager, but today I need to give him some slack, he’s 75 after all.

A co-founder of Students for a Democratic Society in 1961, Hayden was jailed in Albany, Georgia, for attempting to desegregate a railway station. While incarcerated, he began drafting the famed Port Huron Statement, which introduced the concept of “participatory democracy” to a wider audience. Hayden later became president of SDS and helped form the Economic Research and Action Project to spur civil rights progress.

Hayden already has a lifetime of advocacy under his belt — on peace and justice issues, environmental issues and also elective office (18 years in the California Legislature). And he shows no signs of slowing. He currently leads the Peace & Justice Resource Center in California.

The Peace and Justice Resource Center is a non-profit advocacy and consulting center dedicated to original, carefully researched analysis of the real state of the long wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as well as the failed U.S. wars on drugs and gangs, and U.S. military responses to nationalism and poverty around the world.   ….. The PJRC collaborates with Progressive Democrats for America, Brave New Foundation, Just Foreign Policy, and the networks of United For Peace & Justice, CODEPINK, Peace Action, and Stop Funding

Tom Hayden

Tom Hayden

Listen, Yankee! Why Cuba Matters is a cross between an intimate conversation between old friends (Hayden and Ricardo Alarcon), a historical thesis about a place and time that has been closed off to most Americans thanks to our country’s embargo, and a call to Americans (the Yankees) to set aside our misconceptions (of which there are many) and take a fresh look at Cuba, its people, economy and politics.

Hayden is no apologist for Fidel Castro or the revolution, acknowledging “it is no paradise.” But there’s alot we should take note of, such as its achievements in health care (my friend’s daughter from New Mexico is a medical student in Havana), literacy, and education.

Cuba has one of the “highest per capita numbers of doctors of any country in the world. Its classical ballet is known everywhere. Cuba was fifty-ninth out of 186 countries in the UN development index in 2012, higher than nearly every Latin American and Caribbean nation. Though lying in a deadly hurricane corridor, Cuba’s disaster preparedness is unmatched. Cyban athletes have collected 196 gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Olympics since the revolution, as opposed to only twelve before 1959.”

Since the overthrow of Batista in 1959, the U.S. has stubbornly stuck to its goal of “regime change” (thanks in great measure to the political pressure of the Cubans in Miami). Hayden makes a convincing argument that the future for Cuba will be about “regime reform” instead.

Thanks to President Obama’s overtures to Raul Castro, and their joint announcement on December 17, 2014, we may have an opportunity to build bridges and heal relationships which we should have done decades ago.

  • Full diplomatic relations would be restored immediately, with the two Interest Sections established during the Carter era turned into full-scale embassies;
  • The United States would soon remove Cuba from the sanctions created by its inclusion on the State Derpartment’s list of “terrorist states”.
  • Constraints on American travel to and from Cuba would be substantially lifted.
  • Licenses for tourism would continue to be restricted pending US congressional action.
  • Banking and trade would be widened.
  • Remittances from Cuban Americans to their relatives in Cuba would be further increased (nearly one billion in US dollars already flows yearly).

A message kept running through my mind while reading the book. “If the U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba, so misguided and counterproductive for so many decades, can shift so dramatically and suddenly, then why not our policy with Palestine?”

Hope springs eternal.

Che Guevara in Gaza

Che Guevara in Gaza



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