Today, President Barack Obama announced that the United States and Cuba will open embassies in each other’s capitals and re-establish diplomatic relations for the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower severed diplomatic relations between the two governments on January 3, 1961. I was born in Cuba in 1962 and left my home in 1969 with my mother and father as part of the second wave of Cuban migration to the United States (the first took place between 1959 and 1962 when many of the island’s wealthiest citizens left for the United States). My father and I took our first trip together there in 2000 (a great accomplishment on my part since he had pledged never to return until Castro was no longer in control), and we’ve been back many times ever since.  My views about today’s announcement are informed by my recent visits, the many conversations I’ve had with members of my own family, and the young Cuban voices – in Cuba and Miami – whose views differ significantly from the voices we often hear about in the media.

I enthusiastically support President’s Obama Cuba policy and I support it for several reasons:

First, for anyone who has an intimate relationship with Cuba – who has traveled from Santiago to Pinar del Rio and really engaged with Cubans  – it is painfully clear to see that the policy of isolation supported by many of the more vocal Cuban and Cuban American voices has not worked. Cubans continue to endure a regime where freedom of speech is satirized in literature, access to information is severely limited, state-controlled media precludes any meaningful analysis of social and political events, and poverty continues to blemish the promise of a centralized economy. “Doubling down on a policy of isolation,” as President Obama put it, hasn’t created any meaningful political change on the island. It’s time to try something different. I agree.

Second, my Cuban family – vehemently opposed to “el sistema” – believes that engagement and inclusion through the opening of our embassies formalize what has in essence been a marriage of convenience between two inextricably linked countries for decades. Both countries continue to work together to discourage illegal immigration; both are bound by common safety and security concerns at Guantanamo; and Cuba’s aggressive no-tolerance policy toward drug trafficking is aligned with U.S. policy.

Third, the Cuban people I’ve met – my family, my friends on the island, my recently arrived Cuban friends and family here – all have great respect, admiration and an intriguing emotional connection to the U.S. – its people, its values and, yes, its brands. Any American who visits Cuba will be greeted with such warm admiration that, though hardly surprising to me, leaves them astonished and even more intrigued. There has always been an emotional connection between these two countries that is positive, constructive and authentic. The idea of formalizing the close bonds between these two countries contains the possibility of change built on what is already a strong foundation build on respect, shared interests and an economic opportunity.

I represent a growing voice of Cuban Americans, though one that (regrettably) may not be as loud as other, more conservative, Cuban voices.  I look at Cuba through the eyes of my parents who lost so much (and I don’t mean just financially), and I look at Cuba through the eyes of my newly-arrived cousin, who left the island state in search of economic opportunity, political freedom, and personal fulfillment. In Cuba, she had no purpose; in the U.S., she has the liberty of exploring that question. But my cousin is also leaving Cuba not with the blind rage towards her country, but with a desire for her country to engage, connect (in some cases, literally) and change so that it too can provide a sense of purpose to its people. I increasingly look at Cuba through her eyes.

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Nelson Fernandez

Nelson Fernandez, executive director and managing director of APCO Worldwide's New York office, provides counsel to APCO clients on corporate communication, corporate giving, issues and crisis management, and media training. Read More