By Mark Mitten
McLEOD COUNTY, MN When it comes to understanding the US embargo against Cuba, Cuban immigrant and Lester Prairie resident Jose Luciano thinks the heart of the matter can be distilled down to two things: Human rights accountability versus economic gain. People or profit.
“You have to be cautious cognizant of issues beyond money,” Luciano warned. “There are a lot of Cubans, starting with my mom, who have lost friends to the regime.”
Luciano was born in Cuba in 1959 during one of the most pivotal and tumultuous moments in Cuba’s history. Fidel Castro had just come into power, and by the time Luciano turned 3, his family’s view of the Castro revolution changed from relief and celebration to fear-for-their-lives dread. What should have been a revolution from a corrupt government dissolved quite plainly into a despot swap. Out with Batista, in with Castro.
Tensions with the US began escalating and Luciano’s parents knew they had to leave if they could. In the afterhours of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, by just a political hairsbreadth, the Luciano family boarded the last flight out of Cuba and got as far away as they could Minnesota.
Now, 55 years since Eisenhower enacted the first embargo against Cuba, President Obama is reaching out to the Castro regime. He is renewing diplomatic relations, though it will take an act of Congress to remove the embargo.
Joining with Democrat congressional leaders, Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer, in an unusual move for a conservative Republican, began that process by introducing The Cuba Trade Act of 2015. However, as a Cuban immigrant and a longtime Minnesotan, Luciano believes lifting the embargo would be a mistake. He believes the Castro brothers would see it as a final political win, after a decades-long standoff with the US.
On Emmer’s official website, the congressman states that the legislation would “lift the Cuba embargo and allow for businesses in the private sector to trade freely with Cuba.” He cites support from the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farmers Union, among other groups, to emphasize the economic benefits to the state by boosting agricultural exports from Minnesota.
Yet economic gains are only one side of the issue.
“Who do you think is going to keep that money?” Luciano asked, should the embargo be lifted. “The people? That money goes right to Fidel and Raul’s wallet and the socialist system. It is not set up to distribute to the people.”
Of greater concern, to Luciano, is the welfare of the people of Cuba.
The Castro regime has a long track record of abusing political rights and civil liberties, and was listed on the US State Sponsors of Terrorism list from 1982 until Obama’s policy change last year.
“You are not literally behind bars, but the whole country’s a prison. Everybody’s beaten down,” Luciano said. “Would things change if we just started pumping money down there?”
It is clear that Luciano is passionate about the country where he was born. He cares deeply about the people residing there, who live out every day in the political, economic, and spiritual oppression that has defined Cuba since the Castro regime came into power 56 years ago.
Luciano is not the only one with this perspective.
On the heels of Obama’s formal announcement May 29, 2015 to renew diplomatic relations, Republican Senator Marco Rubio, whose parents were Cuban immigrants, quickly fired off an op-ed in the New York Times, published July 8, saying, “This is going to do absolutely nothing to further human rights and democracy in Cuba. But, it potentially goes a long way in providing the economic lift the Castro regime needs to become permanent fixtures in Cuba for generations to come.”
Return to Cuba
Recently, due to these shifting political tides, Luciano was finally able to return to Cuba, and stayed for an eight-day visit.
The time he spent in Havana was powerful. He was able to walk the streets of his childhood for the first time in 53 years. Luciano said several Cubans he met there were absolutely stunned he had returned at all.
More than once, he encountered the same mentality of weary oppression and a desperate desire to leave.
“God has given me a heart for this country,” Luciano explained, referring to Cuba. “If I can be used [by God] to be a help, an aid, a support, and an encouragement to Cuban people, I’m the first guy in that line.”
Tuesday, March 1 caucus
Jose Luciano has been invited to speak at the Republican Presidential Caucus at Winsted Elementary School Tuesday, March 1, which is “Super Tuesday.” The event is open to the public, and will start at 7 p.m.