July 2nd, 2007: Dr. Andy Gomez, Assistant Provost and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at University of Miami, discusses the future of a post-Fidel Cuba.
ANDY GOMEZ: My pleasure, welcome to Miami.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Thank you. So, Andy what do you make of the film that we just saw?
ANDY GOMEZ: I think it’s very well done. I think it portrays a part of Cuban society that is seldom spoken about. Today, Cuba’s population is approximately 30– 62 percent Afro-Cuban, when the Cuban-American exile community’s about 86 to 89 percent. Reconciliation is a possibility, but it’s two different Cubas that we live in, on a regular basis.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What surprised you, if anything, in the film?
ANDY GOMEZ: What surprised me a little bit in the film, is again, the contradictions of the revolution, to a great extent. Let me be specific. Cuba’s revolution was to bring about a better society for everyone. Particularly, the Afro-Cubans, which in your very good documentary, are portrayed in the very famous and very effective national boxing club. You see the former champion of Cuba, who is being visited by his son, who is in the academy, and yet, he lives in the slums. I mean, you see the conditions that he lives in on a regular basis. What has the revolution done for that particular family? Very little, I would say.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And well, talk about your personal connection to Cuba.
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, besides living 24/7 as an academic, looking at Cuba issues and my particular angle is looking at social-cultural issues, of course, it cuts across political angles. I was born in Cuba. I left when I was 6 1/2 years old. My father worked for Coca-Cola all his life. We were transferred to Caracas, Venezuela three days before Bay of Pigs, April 14th, 1961. And we came to Miami in 1965. So, I grew up in Miami most of my life, living and listening to “Next Christmas In Havana”. Well, I’m going to be 53 years old, I’m still waiting for the next Christmas in Havana.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And so, can we safely assume that you are not pro-Castro?
ANDY GOMEZ: I am not pro-Castro. I am not pro-Communism. But– we have to understand, most of Cubans in 1958, given the conditions that existed, were pro-revolution. Because the revolution in Cuba was supposed to bring change–positive change. I dare to say that Fidel Castro betrayed the intent of the Cuban Revolution.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And you left when you were quite young, so have you been back to Cuba since then?
ANDY GOMEZ: I went back in the year 2000, on an academic mission with 18 other academic scholars. I was the only Cuban-American, born on the island. It was supposed to be ten days throughout the island. They cancelled the program 48 hours after we had been there. They did allow us to stay on the island, somewhat curtailed–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You mean, they kicked you out?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, they didn’t kick us out. They let us stay. The reason that they actually gave us, was that we had the wrong visas. Well, I challenged them on that, because my 18 colleagues had a different visa than I did. Since I was born in Cuba, they had to give me the visa. So, I asked them, why could they not continue the program for myself? Well, I was the problem. They feel very uncomfortable on the questions that I was trying to get answers to. I went to Cuba with no agenda. I went to Cuba to experience– experience as a Cuban, what had this revolution accomplished, if anything, for the Cuba people. They filed a complaint on me, to the United States Department. I’m not sure I will be allowed to go back to Cuba. I’m not sure I want to go back to Cuba until there’s positive change.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what did you do that made people feel so uncomfortable?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, I just had a curiosity. For instance, I walked into– in Santiago De Cuba, I walked into the Communist Party headquarters, and I asked for membership.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Why did you do that? I mean, you’re clearly not a Communist.
ANDY GOMEZ: I am not Communist. I’ve never been. But I knew what the answer was going to be. A young soldier sitting at the desk, asked me why I wasn’t a member. I said, “Well, I’ve never been a member.” He asked me where I lived. And– well, first, he asked me if I was Cuban. I said, “Yes, I was born in Cuba.” And then he asked me where I lived. I said, “In Miami.” His eyes got very big. He called his captain. His captain asked me– that I cannot become a member. That I needed to be a Cuban citizen. I said, “I was born in Cuba.” So again, I was challenging them on the contradictions that this Revolution has actually presented for almost 50 years.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what would your average American find surprising about today’s Cuba?
ANDY GOMEZ: Cuba’s a country that has stopped– that stopped literally, in history, in the 1950s.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: In the 1950s?
ANDY GOMEZ: In the 1950s. Cuba, at the same time, is a third world country. Only, in this hemisphere, is Haiti in worse conditions than Cuba. Yet, at the same time, Cuba has been able, under a totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro, stay in power for this long. How long is this going to continue? That’s what we’re living in current history now. And I dare to say, even the young generation that your very good documentary portrays, they know who Fidel is. They could care less about the ideology, no matter how, as the documentary demonstrates. They’re indoctrinated on a daily basis– the ideological values and attitudes of the revolution. I mean, your own documentary portrays three very successful boxers–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But also, at the same time, Fidel has been in power for almost 50 years. And he does seem to have incredible sway over the minds of the average Cuban. I mean, why has he been able to be so durable throughout the last 50 years?
ANDY GOMEZ: Fidel’s personality is like– you can compare it to Stalin, or Hitler, for an example. This–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Hitler?
ANDY GOMEZ: –narcissistic personality, that overcomes people. You’ve got to realize, of the 11.2 million Cubans on the island, close to 9 million were born into the Cuban Revolution. They haven’t seen anything else. Cubans are Fidelistas at first. They’re not Communists, they’re Fidelistas. The question we need to ask ourselves is, once Fidel’s out of the picture, are they willing to become Raulistas? And I don’t think that’s going to happen.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, you think it’s the sheer force of Fidel Castro’s personality that has-
ANDY GOMEZ: Precisely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –“impressed”, quote unquote, Cubans for the last 50 years?
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely, his charismatic way of selling them on the ideological values of a revolution that has failed. I mean, Communism, as we know, has failed across the world. I mean, Cubans live in a very deplorable and poor state. How long is this going to continue? I dare to say, once Fidel’s out of the picture, change will come, and it will come quite fast.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But to an extent, charisma is only going to take you so far. I mean, his policies must resonate with the people, whether it’s the enviable healthcare system, education, and some of the social programs. I mean–
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, I want to come back to–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –Cubans love that, don’t they?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, they do and they don’t. It’s the fear of the unknown. Take a look at what’s happened in East and Central Europe, after change, after transition started. The older generation has become nostalgic for the way that things were. Not that they were better, but they knew how to behave within the box. Under a totalitarian regime what counts is the state, not the individual, to a great extent. Two, as you mentioned, of Cuba’s successes of the Revolution was his healthcare system, and his education system. His education system– Cuba today has one of the largest dropout rates in higher education. There is no future. You can make more money driving a taxi cab for tourists in Cuba than you can being a doctor, and earning, if you’re lucky, 200 to 250 Pesos a month. Which basically, is not going to buy you a whole great deal. The healthcare system in Cuba– I dare to say, if it was that good, it almost killed Fidel Castro in the first operation. They had to bring doctors in from Spain to try to figure out what was wrong with him.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: It’s still the envy of most developing countries, though, isn’t it?
ANDY GOMEZ: I would dare say not. I would dare say not. Today, for the first time, Cuba has a shortage of doctors. They have over 20 to 25,000 doctors in Venezuela on medical missions, working throughout Venezuela, not only in trying to improve their healthcare system, but more importantly, trying to sell the poor Venezuelan society the ideological values of a Revolution that I’m not so sure the young Cubans on the island support today.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, let’s talk about the young Cubans on the island. I mean, most of them were born after the so-called Special Period which we refer to in the film, when the Soviet Union was giving support to Cuba to the tune of billions of dollars. That dried up after the fall of the Soviet Union, and the end of Cold War. What is Cuba’s economy like now then?
ANDY GOMEZ: Cuba’s economy in the last five years has been growing at a fairly fast pace, in comparison to all Latin America. The question is, are those Cubans in control, Fidel and Raul, have they been able to pass the fruits of that success to the rest of the people? No. The answer is no. That’s why I argue that it’s not the U.S. embargo that damages the Cuban people. But it’s the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro, that has imprisoned the Cuban people, and has taken away from them the opportunity to make choices, and the opportunity to improve economically.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But if the economy is growing, that means that more jobs, presumably, are being created, and that there are other opportunities for Cubans to kind of become a little bit more entrepreneurial, in terms of the opportunities that are available now. Or not?
ANDY GOMEZ: As long as the state allows you to. Since the Special Period started, there’s been instances where there has been social outcry. And one way that the government has dealt with that has been to allow the Cuban people to try to be, as you say, somewhat entrepreneurial. The start of paladares in their homes, the small restaurants– special types of businesses selling mangoes, fruits, or whatever it might be. And then they take it-
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And the farming cooperatives, as well?
ANDY GOMEZ: –away from them. And then they take it away from them.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But haven’t there also been some farming cooperatives set up, as well?
ANDY GOMEZ: Very much, very much, very much. But the issue here– I mean, these are very primary principles, in terms of an economic system that can actually flourish. Because the state tries to keep control of it. For instance, Cuba’s joint ventures. In the last ten years, there’s only been six joint ventures, signing with foreign investment companies. The Cuban government controls 51 percent, the foreign investor, 49 percent. If you and I were to invest in Cuba and start a business, you and I cannot hire our employees. The Cuban government selects them for us. We pay the Cuban government in dollars, and they give those employees, possibly, one tenth of those wages, not in dollars, but in pesos.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, where are all the profits going then?
ANDY GOMEZ: They’re being kept by the leadership of the Cuban government–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You mean-
ANDY GOMEZ: –the Fidelistas, and the Raulistas. The Cuban government, under the Grupo GAESA , under the Ministry of the Armed Forces, controls between 60 to 62 percent of the economy. These generals have become rich at the expense of the Cuban people.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, you’re saying that the military is taking the profits, and Fidel and his brother, Raul, are taking the profits?
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. Our own Fortune Magazine estimates that Fidel’s worth is more than 500 million dollars.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Fidel’s critics, and I know you’re obviously one of them, focus on human rights abuses, on political prisoners, and on the one party system. That is one side of the story. Talk about what you think Fidel has done right over the past 50 years, if anything at all.
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. I mean– first and foremost– I don’t blind myself. I have to look at the fact that this is a very intelligent man. This is a man that has stood up to the superpower 90 miles to the north. In a lot of cases, you can claim that he has won many of those battles. This is a man, as you said earlier, that has captured 11.2 million people for almost 50 years, in his charisma; he’s convinced them that what he does on a day to day basis is for their betterment, to a great extent. Yet, at the same time, my only question is, I don’t want to impose Cuban-American values on the Cuban people. I don’t want to impose American values and attitudes on the Cuban people. All I ask personally, is to let the Cuban people on the island have the freedom to make choices. Let them choose what it is that they want. And if they choose Fidel, and if they choose Raul; I will have to respect that. I might not like it, but I will have to respect that. I want them to have the choice– the same choices that I have as an American citizen, that I’m–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Now what are you talking about here?
ANDY GOMEZ: –very proud of.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Are you talking about democracy?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, I’m talking about change. I don’t think you can build democracy overnight. And this is where I think, we, as Americans, as a government have failed. Democracy has worked in the United States, and we’ve been around for over 200 years. And we can even question part of the democracy, has had its weak moments. Take a look at Iraq. You can’t build a country that doesn’t have a foundation around its civil society, that can support those democratic principles. You cannot build in Cuba, after almost 50 years of totalitarian regime, democracy overnight. So, as a matter of fact, I dare to say, that a quick fix, such as a democratic system, by name alone– we’re beginning to see some of this stuff in East and Central Europe. Look at Russia, with all the corruption. So, all I want is positive change. All I want is for the Cuban people to have the freedom to make their choices. Like I said, I might not like them, but at least I’ll support it.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what do you think that Fidel has done right over the last 50 years then?
ANDY GOMEZ: Fidel has stood up to the United States for 50 years. And I say, right or wrong, I’m not sure. History will judge him. As he said, “History will absolve him.” My list of what he has done wrong: He sold the Cuban people on an ideology that has failed. As I said earlier, the ideals of the Cuban Revolution– I feel very strongly, that he betrayed it. Where this country stands today is not where that Revolution was supposed to have–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You don’t think the ideology has delivered anything that is tangible and concrete to the Cuban people?
ANDY GOMEZ: Sure, he’s masterminded 11.2 million people. And I dare to say, the majority of them have to go along to get on. I think, most of those people, particularly the young generations, those 2.2 million Cubans born, as you said, after the Special Period, I don’t think they buy the Fidel ideology. They don’t buy the Revolution. They want to have– let’s say, Raul, after Fidel is dead, if Raul cannot improve what I call, their basic needs– better food, better shelter, jobs and training. Oh, and by the way, let’s improve that education system that this Revolution was supposed to have provided you free. And let’s improve our healthcare system, that today is only good for those tourists, or Latin Americans, or other people, that are willing to come to Cuba, and pay in dollars. That’s not the same health system that the regular Cubans get on the island; shortage of aspirins, if you get sick. The shortage of doctors. You have to bring your own pillows and pillowcases because you can’t find any in the hospital.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But how much of this has to do with the effects of the embargo, which has ostensibly, been what American foreign policy towards Cuba has been for the last 50 years?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: I mean, what has it accomplished?
ANDY GOMEZ: Let’s be realistic. The U.S. embargo on Cuba, on paper itself; today the United States is the fourth largest importer to Cuba. Cuba in the– right now, it’s replacing all of its telephone poles. Where do they buy them from? From the great state of Alabama, as agricultural products. Now, I’m not sure you can eat a telephone pole, but it’s being sold to Cuba as agricultural products. The issue here is, Fidel wants to buy from the United States on credit. I say, from a personal point of view, we should’ve probably lifted the embargo when the Soviet Union fell apart, and let everything go in, particularly people with new ideas, and give people the opportunity, those in Cuba, to hear how the rest of the world was going on.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So what– we dropped the ball?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, not only did we drop the ball, but we were very short-sighted. Now, on the other side– that’s my personal side. From my academic side, why lift the only piece of paper that we have, the embargo, without being able to negotiate with a future leader of Cuba, any conditions to compromise? And of course, I’m talking about the Helms-Burton Law that is in power right now. To which will have to be amended, because under its current state, no one in the United States, from President on down, can negotiate with Fidel or with Raul. From my academic point of view, I would not lift the embargo until at least three conditions for the Cuban regime is willing to be put on the table. Let me outline them for you. Respect for human rights, the release of all political prisoners, and give the Cuban people, within the first 18 months to two years, the opportunity to choose who they want as their next leader.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what makes you think, or makes Washington think, that Raul is going to want to talk about any of those issues?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, let’s talk about Raul a little bit. Raul is not Fidel. And sure, he’s not as charismatic as Fidel. But Raul has been next to Fidel for almost 50 years plus. He’s been the implementer. Raul is much more pragmatic than Fidel. Not only that, he’s controlled the single most important institution in Cuba.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: The military?
ANDY GOMEZ: The military. In complete control. Raul also knows that he might be able to keep the symbol of his brother alive. But he’s going to have to deliver positive change to the Cuban people. He has to create hope for those young boxers in your documentary. That boxing and winning a national medal for your country’s not enough. But that I’m going to be able to have, once I retire, the state is going to provide for me, and my family’s going to be able to be taken care of. That I’m going to have better training opportunity or jobs. I’m going to have the freedom to make choices.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And how much of this can Raul effectively implement?
ANDY GOMEZ: I dare to say, that Raul has six months to a year. And I say, from the moment that Fidel appeared– a couple of weeks in la Mesa Redonda, Fidel’s cognitive skills are very limited, at this point. I say that Raul-like many of my colleagues that watch Cuba on a regular basis-Raul’s in charge of the day to day operations. Raul’s got six months to a year to bring about some positive change. I’m not talking political reform. Minimal economic reforms. If he doesn’t, then I dare to say, that you can have a large migration out of Cuba. Young Cubans trying to see that there’s no hope. That they want to leave the island. The best case for the scenario– for the United States, given that we are in a presidential year, that we do not care to have that kind of social instability, is that they also recognize in Washington that Raul cannot do the same thing, or say the same thing that Fidel did in 1980. Which is, challenge Cubans that can no longer support his Revolution, to leave the island. In 1980, in Mariel we had approximately, 125,000. I’d say, after that first year, with Raul in charge, you’re going to have as many as half a million Cubans trying to leave the island.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But you said that life is so awful for most Cubans anyway. So, why haven’t these young people already left? Why would they wait until Raul had spent six months to a year trying to sort of make minimum changes to their living standards?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, you and I can pick up and leave this wonderful country anytime that we want to, as long as we have the proper documentation, and whatever. Cubans just can’t get up and say, “Tomorrow I’m going to go visit my Cuban relatives in Miami.” The United States has had an– in a court, with the Cuban government, where we allowed 20,000 visas per year. We issued the 20,000 visas. The Cuban government has to issue the exit permits. Of course, Fidel tries to control, and play this game, of who can and cannot leave. And then blames it on the United States. Cubans just can’t buy an airline ticket and fly to Miami. Cubans just cannot get on a cruise and come to Miami.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But where–
ANDY GOMEZ: They are captured within that island. They’re prisoners of this Revolution that was supposed to bring them completely the opposite.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But why are they being punished? I mean, what is this policy of punishing the average Cuban?
ANDY GOMEZ: Oh, contrary. This is not punishment. He’s taking care of them. He is protecting them from the so-called “imperious Yankees” that live 90 miles to the north, that want to come, take over the island, and put you in the conditions-if I’m an Afro-Cuban-put you in the conditions that you found yourself before I started this Revolution, if I’m Fidel Castro. And the questions that I want to ask those Afro-Cubans in your documentary– check to see how much your conditions have actually improved from ’58 to what it is now? Why is a national hero, an Olympic champion, a hero of the Cuban Revolution, living under the conditions that he’s presently living? It’s shameful. It is absolutely shameful.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, talk a little bit more about this mass migration, this exodus of Cubans. That number that you quote, I’m presuming that’s a worst case scenario, isn’t it?
ANDY GOMEZ: That’s a worst case scenario. That’s a worst case scenario. Again, I dare to say, even boxing gives these youngsters the opportunity to escape from the reality that they live on a single day. Boxing allows them, not only the very good training that they have received. But you look in your documentary. They don’t have the equipment to train properly, like, maybe youngsters in other parts of the world do have. They do get better food. They do get better treatment. They live there six days out of the seven days, and then they live that reality. In the case of Cristian, the young boxer, goes and visit his mother in a building that’s falling apart. And then he goes and visits his father, the former champion, in a slum. Is this what Cristian wants to live, once he becomes Cuba’s next champion– boxing champion? I dare to say not. That’s why you saw three Cuban-trained boxers, and very successful, defect.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And there were problems trying to get food to eat, for most of these families–
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –half the time.
ANDY GOMEZ: –absolutely. And you begin to see that the dietary problems that they have had, have even– causing now, health problems even, as much as with the eyesight for the older generation. Because of the deficiency in vitamins, older Cubans are going blind. Which is shameful. So again, it is not the U.S. embargo, I dare to say, that has hurt the Cuban people. But it’s the Cuban totalitarian regime, that has taken away from the Cuban people the fruits of that economy that has been improving for the last four or five years.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: The United States is involved in that embargo, as well. I mean, what has that accomplished for the average Cuban, in terms of, our policy? Which I know you feel is very much driven by domestic considerations.
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: It’s not really a foreign policy at all.
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah– no, it’s domestic policy.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Which is-
ANDY GOMEZ: U.S. policy towards Cuba, I say, domestic, and let me define it. It has been to try to appease the large and very strong political and economic Cuban-American base, particularly in South Florida. The Cuban–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what kind of numbers are we talking about?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, we’re talking about 955,000 Cuban-Americans, mostly concentrated in three states–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And they’re all hard-line?
ANDY GOMEZ: –Florida, New Jersey, and California. Well, that’s the question now. This community is not as homogeneous as it was before. This community still cares very deeply about Cuba. We’re very passionate, but we’re also Americans. We have assimilated into American culture. So, from a personal point of view, and the conversation that I have at home around our dinner table is; we care as much as to what’s going on in Iraq, and possibly more so, than what we care of what’s going to happen in Cuba tomorrow. We also don’t take the rhetoric of having all these presidential candidates that are now coming into South Florida. And now they’re being challenged, because screaming, “Viva Cuba Libre, Viva Cuba Libre,” that’s not going to win you the vote of the Cuban-American community anymore, to a great extent. So, we have now started challenging the current policies of both. Because this is not just the Republicans. The Democrats did the same thing. Republicans and Democrats have actually been trying to somehow please the Cuban-American community, by making promises that they cannot keep. Change. Changes in Cuba are already happening. But change in Cuba needs to be determined, not from exile, and not from the United States. Change is got to be from within if it’s going to be effective, and if it’s going to be able to be sustained.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: All right. Well, let’s talk about the embargo. Americans can’t travel there. They can’t invest there. They can be sued if they do anything to the contrary. And when it comes to remittances, Cuban-Americans can’t send money home to their poor relatives.
ANDY GOMEZ: Precisely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Why is that such a great policy?
ANDY GOMEZ: Let’s talk about two sides. Let’s talk first from the American side. The idea of the U.S. embargo, or any economic embargo like this one, is to try to put a noose around the island, where you actually create a scenario that it will explode. Society will explode, because the conditions are so limited, particularly economically.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But it hasn’t happened, has it?
ANDY GOMEZ: It hasn’t happened, because I don’t know of any economic embargo that has actually toppled a dictatorship to a great extent.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what’s the point of having it then, because it punishes-
ANDY GOMEZ: Well–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –the Cuban people ultimately.
ANDY GOMEZ: –but it goes back to your very good question. For many years Washington, both Republicans and Democrats, have sold the idea of the embargo to try to bring about change in Cuba. But what they were trying to actually do, as we talked earlier before, is-it’s domestic policy, not international policy– has been to appease a large Cuban-American community that has traditionally voted Republican. I dare to say that that is changing. But let me be clear. I’m not saying that now Cubans are going to vote Democrat. Cuban-Americans are beginning to question whether the policies that we have had in place have been effective, and are they going to work today and tomorrow. See, there was something very interesting here that happened not too long ago that I think began to change the way the Cuban-American community looks at the whole issue of Cuba. It was called the Elian Gonzalez case. This was the young boy that was portrayed internationally that arrived at our shores, and became the symbol– he was captured– he became the symbol between two Cubas, the Cubans in exile, and the Cubans in Cuba. We knew we were going to lose. The real issue here, as a father irregardless of politics, I will hope that if my daughters travel overseas like they’ve done, and get detained by a government that I have the right, if they haven’t broken any laws, to reclaim them. We should have turned that kid back within the first 24 hours. But he became a political symbol, which we lost. I dare to say that particular incident changed how we Cuban-Americans had traditionally thought about not only the embargo, but our own way of looking at Cuba today and looking at Cuba in the future.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: If–
ANDY GOMEZ: We became more pragmatic. We became more realistic.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Right. Part of the problem, I guess, is that the policy was so hard-lined, because it was really–
ANDY GOMEZ: Precisely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –about regime change.
ANDY GOMEZ: Precisely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Regime change hasn’t happened. So, the policy has been rendered ineffectual, because-
ANDY GOMEZ: We’ll just say that–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Castro– he’s another 50 years.
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. Once you say that if you measure success, both parties have to win. That is what diplomacy is. That’s what foreign policy is. You compromise. You work with each other. In the case of the United States and Cuba, the challenge has always been, you’ve got to have a winner, and you have to have a loser. And we’ve been at this battle for over 50 years, and we’re still at step one.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, do you think that the embargo should be done away with? It’s a complete waste of time?
ANDY GOMEZ: Again, I go back, from a personal point of view, the embargo should have been lifted when the Soviet Union fell apart. We should have let people travel back. Send money. Let Cubans come out, whatever. But at the same time, from an academic point of view, why am I going to lift the only piece of paper-as weak as it is, the U.S. embargo towards Cuba-without demanding at least some compromises that the Cuban government are willing to bring to the table?
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But is Raul willing to have the embargo lifted? I mean, how important an issue is it to them?
ANDY GOMEZ: We don’t know, because we haven’t been able to approach Raul. Maybe he will. I’ll give you a perfect example. There’s oil in the shores– north shores of Cuba. You and I don’t– when was the last time you filled your tank? I’m not very happy when I’m paying for gasoline nowadays. And we’re importing most of our oil from the Middle East. If Cuba has oil, which we know for a fact they do so, heavy crude is going to take three to five years with the proper infrastructure to bring to the market. Isn’t that going to interest the United States, that you now have it less than 90 miles to the south? Isn’t that possibly going to interest Raul Castro to have somewhat of a more realistic policy towards the United States? But we don’t know that, because we’ve never talked to these individuals. Now let me be very specific, because I don’t want your audience to misinterpret. I do not want to negotiate with Raul Castro, and I don’t support it unless he is willing to compromise and give in a little bit to some of my own personal minimal demands, as I stated earlier. If he wants to keep the same hard-line, then I’m going to fight him on it. Not only that– not only am I going to fight him on it. I’m going to beat him at his own game.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: How are you planning on doing that?
ANDY GOMEZ: He needs Exxon, Chevron, Mobil in order to be able to market and have Cuba benefit. Why? Hugo Chavez is not going to be around for a long time.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You’re talking about the Venezuelan President who–
ANDY GOMEZ: The Venezuelan President– oil use–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –is selling oil to Cuba?
ANDY GOMEZ: –and uses oil as a way of influencing his own policies and ideology, which, by the way, is beginning to cause some problems even within the continent to a great extent.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, how concerned should the United States be about the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, given that Chavez is so fervently anti-American?
ANDY GOMEZ: If I was sitting today in the State Department, I’d be more concerned about Hugo Chavez in Venezuela than I am about when Fidel is going to die and when Raul is going to take over.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Okay. So, why this obsession with Cuba?
ANDY GOMEZ: Because of a large Cuban-American political and economic power structure in south Florida. However, the Venezuelans are catching up in exile very quickly.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Right. How did Fidel betray the revolution?
ANDY GOMEZ: Again, the purpose of the revolution– you’ve got to look at where Cuba was in 1958. We had a corrupt President by the name of Fulgencio Batista, that had come to power for the second time. There was no equality. There was economic corruption, political corruption left and right. But at the same time, Cuba had the second largest middle class of all of Latin America. Only Argentina– and yet we forget, because we thought– You earlier asked me about the successes of the revolution being two things– education and healthcare. Before Fidel came into power, healthcare and education were very good in Cuba, too. He might have improved it, and I don’t blind myself– he might have given more access at the early stages of the Revolution to healthcare and education, to Afro-Cubans that did not participate. But they don’t have that good healthcare system that Cuba offers today.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And how come it was the Afro-Cubans that ended up staying in Cuba and the European Cubans that ended up leaving?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, I wouldn’t call them the “European Cubans,” but you know, the early stages I still remember, the idea– middle class, the professional class in Cuba left in the early ’60s. I still remember my dad talking about packing enough suitcases, because we were coming back in six months. And six months became years. And then I remember every Christmas Eve talking about “next pig in Havana.” Like I said, I’m going to be 53 years old, and I still haven’t had my pig in Havana. I’ve had many of them in Miami, and I’m very proud of it. But I think change is coming, and change is coming sooner than we expected.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And in the film we see public displays of antagonism towards the United States. For example, there are people carrying signs, which say, and I quote, “Mighty Fidel, sock it to the Yankees.” I mean, does the average Cuban see the United States as a palpable threat?
ANDY GOMEZ: What caught me, which I think was very interesting– that’s a very good question in your documentary, many of those same people that were carrying those signs had New York Yankees caps on, or had t-shirts in English. One even actually had the flag of England on his t-shirt. I have had the opportunity to interview recently arrived Cubans. And when I say “recent,” literally, right off the boat. When they have the freedom to express themselves, they don’t hate America. They don’t know what America’s all about. They don’t know what the Cuban-American community’s all about. They have no choice. They live in a culture of fear where overnight, like we saw a couple of years ago, 75 dissidents were picked up for no reason, and thrown in jail.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But isn’t the culture of fear, Andy, also something that’s promoted by the United States? I mean, for example, the U.S. spends something like $35 million–
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –a year promoting democracy.
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, it’s more than it looks– it’s more like $80 million a year promoting democracy. And yet that is very small when you take a look at how much we spend in Iraq. How much we spent in Kosovo.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Yeah, but the fact, and I mean, promoting democracy, that means– trying to destabilize Cuba. Right? I mean–
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah. But that’s not the issue to me. The issue that’s important to me is–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But to spend $80 million trying to destabilize a country isn’t important?
ANDY GOMEZ: I don’t think it’s destabilizing the country. I can only speak, for instance, on what we do here at the Institute. From a very credible and strong academic point of view, we see our job as giving the Cuban people the appropriate information, where they can use it to make their decisions and their choices. Our goal– my goal is not to tell them who to pick in terms of what political system they should have, what economic system. Like I said, change in Cuba has got to come from within. We in the Cuban-American community can support that change whichever way we choose to. Like you mentioned large amounts of money at one time went in, as for instance, it was estimated between $500 and $800 million a year.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Okay. So, these millions of dollars that are being spent by the U.S. government, what has it actually bought in dollar terms for the American tax payer?
ANDY GOMEZ: I think it has brought to the Cuban people– the opportunity to listen, read, hear what are the other opportunities that they might be able to decide and choose once that change comes about. I mean, I think most of the money has been very well spent not trying to impose democracy. Again, I can only speak from the Institute’s point of view and what we’ve done academically. And that is provide the Cuban people with the instruments, if you will, to help them make good choices, with the instruments to build a civil society that they can sustain whatever changes that they choose to make once they have that opportunity.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, let’s talk about human rights in Cuba. What is the current situation right now?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, it’s deplorable.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Yeah, okay–and well, TV Mart — and what about radio?
ANDY GOMEZ: TV and Radio Mart.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Yeah.
ANDY GOMEZ: Radio’s more– it’s listened more now than before.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, you can hear the radio, but you can’t see the TV at all, right?
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Okay.
ANDY GOMEZ: Consistently, you cannot see the TV.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, some of the money’s being used to support TV Mart. I mean, you can’t even see that in Cuba.
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, you know, the intent of TV and Radio Mart, again, this is transmitting to the Cuban people programs that can help them, again, challenge, or learn from how the rest of the world has moved forward to a great extent. If information going into Cuba was not a threat to the current totalitarian regime of Fidel and Raul, why try to block not only Radio, TV Mart, but all the other forms of communication that go into Cuba? So, again, that’s why I say it is not the embargo that hurts the Cuban people. But it’s the imposed embargo that the Castro brothers have put on the Cuban people that has prevented them from living in a free world.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Is Cuba, or Latin America, do you think, going to figure in the next Presidential election?
ANDY GOMEZ: No. It hasn’t. U.S. policy towards Latin America, and you can trace it back to the Kennedy years, the Alliance for Progress– U.S. policy towards Latin America has been reactionary rather than proactive. We have concentrated most of our efforts in Europe, in Asia and in the Middle East. I see some shifts, but slow shifts, and it basically deals with one issue– large immigration. And we just saw, you know, the Senate was not able to reach a compromise on immigration reform.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And that’s it?
ANDY GOMEZ: I would say so. Or, now the opportunity– well, let me explain it. Two points. The possibility of oil in Cuba, which will become very interesting to the United States. And I’ll add a third one. China’s role in Latin America. China’s role in Latin America is not to politically influence Latin America. If you’ve been to China, China has kept a very centralized political system, but I dare to say it is one of the fastest growing capitalist nations in the world. China’s interest in Latin America is economic. Two things: raw material and oil. Shouldn’t we be talking and cooperating with the Chinese a little bit closer in terms of Latin America? I would say so.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Is Raul Castro interested in what’s happening in China? Has he been impressed by that whole–
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, you know, you–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –economic model, but still the Communist Party retains political control?
ANDY GOMEZ: That’s a very good question. That’s a very good question, because you hear all the time, even from his first trip to China in the early ’90s, he did come back, and we know for a fact-because Raul’s former Chief of Staff was the only person in that room-when Raul came back and met with Fidel and told Fidel that he had been very impressed with what he saw in China. That Cuba needed to adopt economic reform. And his former Chief of Staff has told us that Fidel got up and basically almost went after his brother and told him, “Under no circumstances under my leadership are we going to change anything that we do here in Cuba.” So, Raul’s more pragmatic. Raul knows that in order for the ideology in the Revolution, if it’s going to continue and succeed, he’s got to change it. The Chinese model in Cuba might not have worked completely. Two very different cultures. The Chinese are much more disciplined than even the Cubans that live in Cuba today under the totalitarian regime.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, what kind of model would work in Cuba that wouldn’t betray the essential sort of facets of the Revolution?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, again, let me answer your question this way. Let me put myself in Raul Castro’s shoes. “My brother’s out of the picture. I have to somehow keep his symbol alive, at least in the short run, to keep myself in power. I have to find a way where we go from Fidelismo to Raulismo. And I’m not sure I can succeed with that. But I also need to somehow be able to deliver something to the Cuban people, particularly Cuba’s youth in order to keep them entertained and buy me more time. And those reforms are on the economic side. If I fail to do so, my stay in power is going to be very short lived.” And I think he knows that.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And, well, Fidel is 80 years old.
ANDY GOMEZ: Uh-huh.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Raul is 75. I mean–
ANDY GOMEZ: Seventy-five.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –he’s barely a spring chicken. I mean–
ANDY GOMEZ: No. And–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –shouldn’t we be preparing for another succession?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, you know, no. I think what we should be preparing is for a transition from the succession. And the difference there is a transition to something, and that something needs to be defined by the Cuban people on the island. I personally hope that that transition is slowly into a democratic system, or one that begins to look like a democratic system. But I don’t know what the Cuban people are going to choose once they’re given their choice.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And can Cuban communism survive the death of its leader, Fidel?
ANDY GOMEZ: I think Cuba quit being a communist state a very long time ago. I think even the rhetoric, when you listen in your documentary-the young pioneers, the Cubans, you know-they’re swearing their allegiance to a Che Guevara and the communist system. Cubans are not communist. Cubans today, because they have been captured by that Fidel charisma, are Fidelistas, or the majority of them. So, let me play it out for you. Fidel dies tomorrow. Ten days later it is announced that he has died, once the security apparatus has been put in place. You’re going to see a large funeral. Hopefully, though, maybe one that you can go in and cover, because I think they will want to show the international community what this spectacle is going to be like. We put him under. What do I do if I’m Raul Castro? Fidelismo has died. Are Cubans going to be Raulistas? They’re not communists. They are not communists. And I can tell you, only one Cuba that I know in all the years that I have been in exile.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Why wouldn’t they follow Raul? I mean, the succession has already happened. I mean, the status quo has not been disturbed. Why would it be disturbed once Fidel has passed?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, let me put it to you this way. As we said earlier, Raul has been the Minister of the Armed Forces for over 48 years. Not all of the Armed Forces have benefited from the corruptions of the economy that they control. He also needs to be very careful, to somehow have from the rank of colonel, major on down, make sure that he’s going to be able to promise a better future for those people. They still have families. They still live in a system that doesn’t provide for them. They have not participated in the spoils of the economy that they’ve been able to control. And he knows this. Like I said earlier, I know one high ranking Cuban that defected, and I asked him why he had defected many years ago and his answer kind of stunned me. He said, “I defected because I’m a communist, and Fidel betrayed communism.” I believe him.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And when news of that succession broke, I mean, there was spontaneous celebration in the streets of Miami by the exiled Cubans. Were you there?
ANDY GOMEZ: No. And the majority of the Cuban-American community did not participate. What was portrayed nationally, internationally was a large group. But it was not the celebration of the succession. It was the celebration that Fidel might have been dying or was dead. Shortly after, many in the Cuban-American community warned this community that a celebration could be short lived, and could be interpreted as that we were celebrating something that really hasn’t changed. And that is if Fidel dies, Raul becomes the power. Nothing has really changed. So, what are we celebrating? The City of Miami had selected, or had made plans to have these mass celebrations in the Orange Bowl. And quickly those were put aside, again, because I think the celebration, and let me be clear, you are going to see a large one for the first 72 hours. Once we know Fidel is dead, Miami’s going to become paralyzed. There’ll be a number of people going up and down celebrating the death of Fidel. But the question that we need to ask ourselves is, 72 hours later, has anything changed in Cuba? If it is a succession, I dare say, no. Nothing has changed. Nothing will change.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And how should the United States respond to that challenge in terms of our policy?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, again, we are in the middle of a Presidential campaign. I don’t know how the Democrats and the Republicans will want to take on that particular issue. You’re going to have, as we have had, a number of candidates– let me not mention them by name, but the majority of them have called this institute and asked us the same question that you’re asking us. And the question– the answer that we give them is, depending on whether you want to win the vote of the Cuban-American community or not. Washington, both Republicans and Democrats, are having a very hard time in this Presidential election trying to read the Cuban-American community.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Fidel is 80 years old. He has turned over the running of the country to his brother, Raul.
ANDY GOMEZ: Temporarily, supposedly.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, talk about Raul. Who is he, this power behind the throne?
ANDY GOMEZ: Raul, as you said, is 75 years old-an orthodox communist-which Fidel was not at his early ages. Raul traveled through the Soviet Bloc countries in his teen years learning more about the system. And he’s always been very close in his own personal belief that communism is the perfect system for any country to have.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Does he still believe this at age 75?
ANDY GOMEZ: Oh, I dare say so, because there’s two very important institutions. We’ve talked about one that Raul wants to keep control of. The military, and the political communist Party of Cuba. See, we might see Raul, given that he’s less charismatic than his brother– but let’s not short-change Raul. He’s a very good organizer. He’s been the one that has been responsible for institutionalizing all the ideas that his brother put in place. He’s been a very effective number two. But that psychology of being number two for so long could have an impact once his brother is out of the picture.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And Raul is 75 years old. So, he’s–
ANDY GOMEZ: Seventy-five years old.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –no spring chicken either.
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, not only that, but before July 31st, Raul’s health has always been a question, where it’s actually been worse than Fidel’s. He’s had cancer. He’s a heavy drinker. Some of the close allies of his that have defected have told us, under pressure he doesn’t function well. So, what happens if Raul goes before Fidel?
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well–
ANDY GOMEZ: There it gets very interesting.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, what does happen? I mean, who are the other kinds of people in–
ANDY GOMEZ: It’s never been-
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –leadership? It’s like there’s a group of six people, or something, isn’t there, who-
ANDY GOMEZ: No. Not unlike China or the Soviet Union, it’s never been safe to be the third person in Cuba. So, I dare to say a grab for power could become very effective, and very complicated. Not only that, what is the role of the Armed Forces going to be? See, the Armed Forces have never been called to quash down any social unrest in Cuba. And if there’s large social unrest, I’m going to go on record and say that the Armed Forces, like we saw in some of the Eastern, Central European countries, will not follow those orders.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what about the role of the Cuban dissident community? Or are they too fragmented and weak in Cuba to–
ANDY GOMEZ: The–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –grab power?
ANDY GOMEZ: –those brave men and women that have been fighting for so long, the opposition, the dissidents– they’re small. They’re disorganized. They’re very poorly funded. The fact of the country– the government controls the information. I’ll give you an example. The major–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But how can they be poorly funded when the United States has been pouring in millions of dollars?
ANDY GOMEZ: Not to them.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What? Not to help the dissident movement to-
ANDY GOMEZ: Not to them. Not to them. As a matter of fact, I will argue that it could compromise them, if you all of a sudden are seen with hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to them.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You don’t believe it’s happened even covertly?
ANDY GOMEZ: Oh, no. No. No. Not at all. No.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: That would be very unusual.
ANDY GOMEZ: No. Not cash exchanging hands. But information, radios, televisions, in that, yeah. In that form, yeah. But delivering cash for them? No. I don’t think so.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Even with all that support, they’re still very weak and fragmented?
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah. And their numbers are very small. I started to say, it took me by surprise how few of those Cubans that arrived to the shores here in Florida know who these dissidents– the majority of over 80 percent of those that I have interviewed, and my colleagues, knew of who the dissidents were.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So, this is very much a country that’s frozen in time in the 1950s-
ANDY GOMEZ: Completely. Completely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –in every sense of the word. Not just the cars.
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. Completely.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What is that all about?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, they have Fidel. You talk about being effective. He has been very effective in keeping that island in a state of a prison. If Cuba was Nicaragua, I don’t think it would have lasted this long. But geographically, being an island, it played into his hands in terms of what comes in and what goes out. Even 90 miles close to the super power, the United States.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, let’s talk about US/ Cuban relations under Raul. Do you think he’s going to reach out to try and improve relations with the United States?
ANDY GOMEZ: If I know that US policy not only towards Cuba, but towards Latin America has been reactionary, I’m going to wait and see. I really don’t need them. I mean, if I’m Raul, I have the European Union. I have Asia. And I have all of Latin America that, somehow, I can use the symbol of my dead brother to further advance my own personal agenda. So I would take a wait and see attitude. Always keeping in the back of my mind that the largest possible capital investment can come from the United States. But if I allowed that at the very early stages of where I am in complete control, that can also dismantle what I’m trying to control.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So he has to be strategic here, you’re saying.
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. And they’ve been very good. Both brothers have been very good. So I don’t see Raul–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But how would that improve his hand in the long term, though?
ANDY GOMEZ: In the long term? What do you mean?
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, how would being strategic by sitting tight improve the situation, say, six or 12 months down the road for him? With the UN– with the United States?
ANDY GOMEZ: I can tell the Cuban people, “We don’t need the United States. We have the European Union. Our friends in Latin America that are helping this revolution and the ideology of this revolution to be preserved.” But not only that, your daily activities have now improved, too. Your conditions have improved. And now the state is going to reach out to you and put you to work to improve the circumstances. There’s something happening in Cuba today. As a matter of fact, today’s Granma just brought it up on the internet this morning. Raul Castro–one of his first and few speeches, was to the Federation of University Students. Which, traditionally, historically have been a very powerful symbol. He challenged them and told them that it was his responsibility as much as theirs to improve the bureaucratic system of the government in place. In other words, criticizing the Cuban government without using the words, “it has failed.” Today, if you read Granma, you see– when you see the picture, you have two young kids overlooking an older man, fixing a refrigerator. In other words, it’s kind of contradictory. This is improving an ideology that was sold in 1958 to be perfect. And now it’s being challenged that it needs to change. In other words, Raul knows that the Cuban people want change once Fidel’s out of the picture. And I think he’s going to– he’s very capable of giving it to them.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what does he need to do?
ANDY GOMEZ: Meet their basic needs. Improve their economic conditions. He can keep the same political system. And I dare to say, as I said earlier, if Raul, which I personally believe and most of my colleagues that have done more research and know Raul better, is a true communist. Raul can keep a larger and more controlled centralized system, political system, and loosen up some of the economic reforms that he’ll need to meet for the Cuban people.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And if he doesn’t make those economic reforms in the first six to 12 months, what’s going to happen?
ANDY GOMEZ: Then I would dare to say that if he cannot control society, then the majority of Cuba’s youth will look at every possible avenue to leave the island. And then you can have immigration crisis like we haven’t seen in this hemisphere ever.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What kind of numbers are we talking about here?
ANDY GOMEZ: I’m talking about, in the worst case scenario, within the first year, half a million Cubans trying to leave the island in every possible direction.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Half a million?
ANDY GOMEZ: Half a million Cubans.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And is this a scenario that we’re prepared for in the United States?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, I can tell you right now that the United States, under the leadership of– Rear Admiral David Kunkle of the Coast Guard, who’s in charge of the taskforce– the coordination between federal and state and local government, it’s better than I have seen– in years before. I was allowed to participate in some of the exercises.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: In what capacity?
ANDY GOMEZ: As an observer. I have given them my input.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What did you say?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, a lot– a lot of the stuff, I’d rather not go on camera since, you know, some of the stuff they’re still very much preparing. But–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But they made improvements based on what you said?
ANDY GOMEZ: I think they made improvements– or they’ve addressed some of the points that I gave them. For instance, it’s not Cubans taking to the water. How about 100,000 Cubans rush into Guantanamo Bay in Oriente in Santiago del Cuba?
DALJIT DHALIWAL: They hadn’t thought about that?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, they had not thought about that.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Does that shock you?
ANDY GOMEZ: So now– now they’re building in a 10,000 bed facility. What about Cubans rushing foreign embassies in Havana? So shouldn’t we have a multi-lateral approach to Cuba? Shouldn’t we have conversations with other countries about Cuba? We’re going at it unilaterally. And that concerns me. The United States will put a large naval armada to try to– the goal is to intercede 95 percent of Cubans heading north. The question that I’ve asked, if you’re successful and you stop them, you pick them up, to repatriate them, you have to have the permission of the Cuban government. In this case, Raul Castro. Let’s assume Raul gives them permission. They don’t want to get off the ships. Do we force them off the ships? That will create a problem with the Cuban American community here. Very quickly, it can go from here to here. Third point, most of these large vessels can only go into two ports in Cuba because of the shallow waters in the Caribbean. In Havana and in Guantanamo. Fourth, if you process them in Guantanamo, what do you do after you process them if you don’t repatriate them? You bring them to the United States and, of course, first choice is South Florida. Because if you bring them to other parts of the United States and you release them, they’re going to come to South Florida anyway. Traditionally, they have done. There’s nothing more that I want, personally, as a Cuban than a free Cuba and the reconciliation of all Cubans. But I also recognize, having learned from the Mariel boat crisis in 1980 that this community cannot afford half a million Cubans. We do not have the infrastructure. We do not have the jobs, the housing, the education system, the health system to absorb that large infrastructure.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Okay. Well, that’s the worst case scenario. But what would–
ANDY GOMEZ: That is in Amer–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What would the best case scenario be in terms of figures, then?
ANDY GOMEZ: Best case scenario? That Raul Castro says no one is allowed to leave the island. And that would please the United States a great deal, too. Particularly in a presidential election. We don’t have to worry about it. But–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: That would be very convenient for the United States in the presidential election.
ANDY GOMEZ: I should think so.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Right?
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. I don’t want to be in the White House my first day in office and deal with half a million Cubans, you know, swimming in every possible direction.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So both countries could conceivably get together and talk about this, couldn’t they? Something going on, perhaps, behind the scenes?
ANDY GOMEZ: Possibly. Possibly. But as an American, as a Cuban American, I also question why– how can you get away allowing that large group of Cubans and not allow Haitians to come in? Or not allow any other groups? I mean, so our policies either have to be consistent. It cannot be selective. So what we have to be able to communicate from a pro foreign policy point of view is to let whoever’s in charge of Cuba, Raul or whoever, that any large migration towards the United States will be seen as a threat to our national security.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what incentive could we give Raul, if this conversation were had– through this back door channels, what would be in it for him? Why would he say-
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, we’ll talk to you– in a couple of months, in a couple of years, depending on what– reforms you implement. And then maybe we can talk a little bit about that oil that you have north of Cuba. And we might be able to jointly begin some exploration.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And this is oil that’s been discovered in the last couple of years?
ANDY GOMEZ: I don’t know. But, to me, in the world that we live, economics drive politics, not the other way.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Well, the Norwegians are already in there, aren’t they?
ANDY GOMEZ: Absolutely. And they’re very good at it. But it’s the Norwegians, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, Repsol, the Spaniards. I mean, you– the only ones left is us. And it’s not only oil. But the very strong capability of, also, natural gas to a great extent.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And talk about your family’s relationship with the Castro regime.
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, very limited. I mean, from my from my parents’ point of view, as I told you, my dad worked for Coca-Cola all his life. He was already under house arrest for participating in so called counter-revolutionary methods. Before we left Cuba on April 17th of ’61, when we got to the airport, he was arrested. And I do have fond memories of that even though I was six and a half. And a family friend, who was a colonel in the armed forces at that time, took him out of the cell and put him on the plane. And he– and we were allowed to leave. And, of course, he has not– I’m the only member of the family that has ever returned.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Do Cubans see the United States as a palpable threat?
ANDY GOMEZ: Not at all. Most Cubans are plattistas. Let me define that for you. During the early years of the relationships between Cuba and United States, we adopted what is called the Platt Amendment. And the Platt Amendment basically said, “If Cuba ever gets in trouble, we’re going to come to the rescue.” There are many Cubans that have arrived to the shores, as I alluded to before, that I have asked their opinion about– how do you feel about we Cubans, we Americans? And they’ve answered this way. Why haven’t you come and rescued us? So I dare to say–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But in the film, we see antagonism towards the United States. You see some Cubans holding signs saying, “Fidel, sock it to the Yankees.” So–
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah? And–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: What’s that all about then if it’s not considered a threat?
ANDY GOMEZ: Because if I put out a sign that says, “Long live Bush. Long live the United States,” I can possibly go to jail for 30 or 50 years with no proper trial or due process. The question that we should ask a lot of these people that you have in your documentary, you’re holding these signs, but at the same time, you’re wearing a New York Yankee cap. Or you’re wearing t-shirts that are in English. And so there’s a contradiction.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Yeah, I mean, I understand what you’re saying. But– so you’re saying that there’s no threat whatsoever that–
ANDY GOMEZ: The Cubans–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: They feel that they’re going to be invaded by the United States; that doesn’t worry them?
ANDY GOMEZ: Why are we going to invade Cuba?
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Because some Cubans believe that that could happen.
ANDY GOMEZ: But why would we invade Cuba like we did in Grenada to, kind of, have a military exercise? I mean, they have a 40,000 army, which, at one time, was very powerful, very well trained. Their equipment is outdated. Are we going to go to war with Cuba? No. No. But we can overrun Cuba in 24 hours. But I would dare to say even before we land, the majority of the Cubans on the islands would take up arms against their own regime. Because they know the Americans are coming. Very different than the Bay of Pigs. Because remember in the Bay of Pigs, it was assumed that the Cubans on the islands were going to take arms. And that was a miscalculation on the United States’ point of view. Today, don’t try it. That’s why Raul cannot get up and say if you guys on this island can no longer support my revolution, leave. Because I dare to say it might be him and a couple of others that might stay behind. Half a million Cubans leaving? No, try a million to two million Cubans leaving.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Where do we get those figures from?
ANDY GOMEZ: Eleven point two million Cubans– you think that overnight they’re going to go from Fidelistas to Raulistas? No.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: You know the US State Department spokesman compared a post-Fidel Castro Cuba to a helicopter with a broken rotor. Implying that a crash is imminent. Is that something that you believe–
ANDY GOMEZ: No, I don’t see it right–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –to be true?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, I don’t see it right away. I don’t see it right away. Because let me play the scenario. Fidel’s not going to die publicly. Like we saw him take that fall a year, two years ago. Fidel’s ill. His cognitive skills are not what they used to be. So the likelihood is that Fidel’s going to die privately. This regime, and by the way, this secession plan has been in place since the ’90s. So what has happened since July 31st, they’ve had the opportunity to implement the plan and fine tune it. Raul will throw a blanket of security around that island like we haven’t seen. And then maybe seven days to ten days later, it will be announced to the Cuban people and to the international community that Fidel has died. And that the funeral will be held on this particular day. You’re going to see the majority of the Cuban people attend the funeral. Why? They’re Fidelistas. We bury Fidel. You possibly see a funeral processional from Santiago– I understand they’re planning from Santiago being brought all the way to Havana. We bury Fidel. And I’m going to wake up the next day and now I’m a Raulista? Oh, I don’t think that’s going to be the case.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But why would the State Department spokesman say that a crash is imminent? What’s the point?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, their best hope scenario has always been that Fidel dies and everything falls apart. Obviously, that’s the worst case scenario for the United States. Because we’re not prepared, then, to deal with a problem that could occur in Cuba. Not politically, but socially. If we now have a civil war in Cuba, oppositions try to take control. This is only 90 miles away. So I think in my best opinion, that I follow this on a regular basis– that’s a very ill conceived statement.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Is it just rhetoric or is it-
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, they’ve been very good at it consistently. And I have very good friends in the State Department. And I respect that–
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Are they clueless, then, about Cuba?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, they’re not clueless. They’re very good. But, again, it’s politics. Is that the reality of it? It’s politics. They have to say what they have to say. Many of them understand that this is very different.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: But why can’t they be in sync with what’s going on in– on the ground in Cuba? The reality of the situation. What’s wrong with that?
ANDY GOMEZ: Well, why weren’t they in sync with Iraq? You need to ask them that question. I mean, they’re very talented. They’re very capable. Our intelligence, no question, has been compromised for many years. It’s not as good as it used to be. They’re just not as good as they are capable of being, to a great extent. And I think a lot of it has to do with the presidential election. Not being able to read the Cuban American community. And trying to somehow continue to win the Republican Cuban American community to support whoever the candidate’s going to be.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: How come after all these years, they can’t still read the Cuban American community?
ANDY GOMEZ: No, the issue is they’ve been able to read the Cuban American community up to now. Because primarily, we’ve voted consistently Republican. I don’t think that’s going to be the case this time. I think we are beginning to question many of the existing policies that we have had in place. But not only the United States, we’re beginning to question the role that we have played in that process. And the importance of being able to talk to everyone across the aisle. Republicans and Democrats alike.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And how would you characterize the difference between Cuban Americans and Cubans?
ANDY GOMEZ: We– let me– let me begin with the Cuban American community. Just by the name itself, I’m very proud to be Cuban American. Because as I am Cuban, being born in Cuba- I’m very grateful that I’m an American citizen. That I participate freely of choice– my choice in getting involved in the political, social and economic system. I care deeply about this country. I care deeply about the policies of this country, domestic as well as international. My values and attitudes are very much shaped by my upbringing in the American community. I have assimilated into a Cuban American culture. The Cubans on the island have been indoctrinated by an ideology of a revolution that has failed. But at first succeeded, at first succeeded to a great extent in the eyes of the world. Because they stood up to the superpowers. Their values and attitudes are very different than those of us 90 miles to the north. Now, the issue here is not about changing the political system that I worry about in Cuba, or the economic system. To me the important issue, on any change, from totalitarian regimes to more open systems of government, and economic, how do you transform the psychological values and attitudes of people in order to support change? And I dare say you can’t do that overnight. You can’t tell the Cuban government, and the Cuban people, that have lived for 50 years on their totalitarian regime, “Oh, by the way, Fidel’s died. Raul, you’re not going to be around for too long. We’re going to have democracy tomorrow.” You have to have a foundation. You have to have a civil society to bring that about. And, more importantly, to sustain it. That can take a generation.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: So when do you think that Christmas in Havana is going to happen for you?
ANDY GOMEZ: I think within the next three or five years– I might be able to travel to Havana– for Christmas. Maybe not have pig, but maybe I’ll eat– my Cuban American turkey with Cuban dressing.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: And what makes you so optimistic that it’s going to be between three and five years? I mean,
the last time you were there-
ANDY GOMEZ: Yeah, I-
DALJIT DHALIWAL: –they told you to leave.
ANDY GOMEZ: Sure. No, well I don’t think– I don’t think Fidel’s got much left, biologically. And I don’t think Raul is going to be able to keep control– and bring about positive change so the Cuban people are going to accept him. So the system is going to change. But, again, it is the Cuban people on the island, they’re going to have to define what that change is. Once they define that change, then I’ll have the freedom of making a choice whether I travel to Cuba and have that pig or that turkey. It might be that the system that they choose is one that I’m not interested in. Then I will not travel to Cuba.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: Dr. Andy Gomez, thank you very much for joining us on Wide Angle.
ANDY GOMEZ: It’s been my pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having me.