Soren Triff | Miami Herald
President Bush should change the tradition of using the 20th of May—the anniversary of Cuban independence from Spain—to address Americans of Cuban origin and Cubans on the island with strong anti-Castro rhetoric.
Instead, the White House should recognize the Cuban Americans who have fought alongside American soldiers and celebrate the achievements of Cuban Americans during this four-decade forced migration to the United States.
Bush should change the 20th of May traditional address because its meaning for the community has been degraded by time and its misuse by politicians.
The presidential tradition began 40 years ago. In a Miami stadium full of Cuban refugees, President John F. Kennedy promised Bay of Pig POWs, on their returning from Cuba, that one day the Brigade 2506’s flag would be returned to them in a free Cuba.
During the Cold War, the 20th of May address was used to deliver several messages, but the most important was the president’s annual renewal of the promise of a free Cuba. Some Cuban Americans have remained loyal to this presidential institution to the point of criminal blindness, as happened during Richard Nixon’s presidency. Other Cuban Americans brilliantly found political common ground with President Ronald Reagan and his successful foreign policy.
But the Cold War ended more than 10 years ago. And, if it is true that classic communism no longer exists in Cuba, it’s also true that the country is still ruled by the same totalitarian regime. Cuba is not free.
Post-Cold War, the presidency ended up using the 20th of May to launch empty rhetoric against Fidel Castro and give White House photo-op tours to Miami politicians. Castro, presidential strategists and local politicians have taken control of the event for their private agendas.
Castro exploits the hard rhetoric to embellish his image as a victim of U.S. ‘‘imperialism.’’ The political strategists employ ‘‘the promise’’ to maintain a majority of ‘‘Cuban’’ votes. Local politicians, activists and radio personalities use their visits to Washington to gain influence among voters, audiences and business partners.
Bush can renovate the 20th of May tradition. He should end the denial and abuse of the high office with respect to Americans of Cuban origin. The White House should admit that the presidential promise of a free Cuba was not, and will not, be fulfilled.
The president should discontinue using the 20th of May as a platform for foreign-policy speeches with a political agenda for the consumption of the U.S. Cuban community. With this, the president would stop providing the easy opportunity for local politicians and business people to cruelly manipulate the hopes and feelings of a community.
Before they die, elderly Cuban Americans, who still hang on to a promise that no longer can be fulfilled, deserve to hear the president tell them so. It is understandable that U.S. leaders cannot accomplish what they promised. What is incomprehensible is that politicians still wave Kennedy’s words to collect the vote of old Cuban Americans.
Alternatively, this 20th of May, Bush could invite to the White House some Cuban American widows, orphans and veterans of the Cold War and Gulf War I and II. He also could praise the U.S. achievements of Cuban Americans who have made the best of forced exile.
Leave the 20th of May alone. Lie another day. For Cubans, it is the celebration of their independence. In America, it is the day of unfulfilled presidential promises. Bush should give closure to this part of American history and open the door to a new American tradition.
Soren Triff is an adjunct professor at Miami-Dade Community College and a columnist for El Nuevo Herald.