In early March of this year, I was returning to the United States from a seven-day “People to People” trip to Cuba when I was “randomly” searched at Miami International Airport.
After waiting in line for almost half an hour, I faced an officer of the Department of Homeland Security for a series of customary questions regarding products I was bringing back to the U.S. The discussion escalated quickly as the officer started asking me about the standard of living in Cuba, as well as the efficiency of its socialist economic structures. His tone suggested that I had to provide the “right answers.”
When he erroneously argued that everything in Cuba is state-owned, I interrupted him by mentioning cooperatives, or small enterprises co-owned by both the state and individuals. I was immediately confronted with strong advice not to “buy their propaganda” and to listen to him because he knew what he was talking about.
At the time, I was completely aware of the state of affairs between Cuba and the U.S.; they had just begun to improve due to actions by the Obama Administration. Almost a month after my airport incident, President Obama announced his intention “to remove Cuba from the American government’s list of nations that sponsor terrorism.” Following the Administration’s lead, Republican Congressman Tom Emmer introduced a bill in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives to end the blockade enacted by President Eisenhower against Cuba.
Eisenhower enacted “a partial trade embargo” on Oct. 19, 1960, which became an “Embargo on all trades” by John F. Kennedy in 1962. This was a response to the Cuban nationalization of private property of large American corporations including The Coca-Cola Company, Exxon Mobil Corp. and the First National Bank of Boston; according to The Boston Globe, these properties were valued at $7 billion in today’s currency.
The blockade became a determining factor in the outcome of Cuban politics. In an effort to apply the principle of socialization to the means of production, Fidel Castro and the other revolutionaries failed to distinguish what belonged to them from what did not. Instead of achieving a compromise on external matters, they chose to condemn the fate of their people.
Without the aid of the U.S., Cuba became dependent on the help of the Soviet Union. The Cuban people became further isolated and impoverished after the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Castro evolved from a national hero in 1959, when he envisioned the establishment of a just socio-economic system for the Cuban people, to a dictator leading a totalitarian regime up until his retirement in 2008, when his brother took over.
That was exactly what the officer was trying to convince me of. He urged me not to fall in the trap of confusing a totalitarian regime for one that stands for the people’s rights. Nevertheless, he carried out this effort through the use of rather totalitarian means.
The officer, and in projection, the DHS, was not interested to know whether or not the People to People program was effective. He wanted to confirm that, after my visit, I embraced his viewpoint, and even if I didn’t, he was determined to impose it upon me.
The role of Homeland Security is to protect the American people, as well as internationals living here. However, does the protection of some rights imply the infringement of others, such as the freedom to one’s opinion? It is one thing to ensure that a person will not interfere with social welfare and another to impose upon them specific thoughts by means of emotional abuse.
This makes me wonder, is it the job of a DHS officer to engage in political or economic debates with travelers? What is the point of having an officer grandstand and create an unnecessary spectacle?
I believe that countries should merely serve as organizational structures striving to make decisions in the interest of all people, not to divide them. The blockade causes annual losses of $685 million to Cuba and results in deplorable living conditions for its citizens. Therefore, I consider this foreign policy to be inhumane and disgraceful; I wonder if the officer would have been open to me contributing this opinion to our discussion.
The “random” check I went through should have been a routine procedure of typical questions. I would be more than happy to have such a debate with anyone, but not with a man carrying a firearm representing the federal government.
This is not about defending my views. This is about defending my freedom to my views. In fact, it is about defending anyone’s freedom to have any view. It is about respecting one’s perception of reality, a precondition for the establishment of freedom, and therefore, democracy.
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