Some 54 years ago, when I was a 10-year-old Cuban farm boy, my parents sat me down at the kitchen table and gave me lecture I will never forget.
"We want you to grow up to be a free man," my father told me. "And so we are moving to the United States," my mother explained.
I had a million questions and implied objections. What about my childhood friends? Would I ever see them again? Would I have to learn English, attend American schools, eat American food? And most importantly, when would we return?
"When Cuba is free again," my father said in Spanish. "Cuando Cuba sea libre," my mother confirmed.
Obviously, I still have some waiting to do. President Barack Obama's remarkable capitulation to Cuba's socialist dictatorship last week certainly does not meet my parents' definition of freedom. In fact, our astonishingly naive president may have prolonged the day when Cubans are truly free.
At a time when dropping oil prices were threatening to dry up Cuba's remaining lifeline from Venezuela, Obama threw a lifesaver to the Castro brothers without any assurance that they will stop repressing the Cuban people. Obama practically guaranteed that Cuban human rights will continue to be violated and that the Cuban people will continue to be deprived of the freedom my parents sought when they brought me here.
My parents and I came to the United States on April 7, 1962. I was 11 years old. Now they reside in a Miami cemetery, along with my brother, grandparents, aunts and uncle. They all died in Florida waiting for Cuba to be free again. They never returned, and neither have I — and I'm proud to live by their principles.
On several occasions, as a journalist, I've had opportunities to return to Cuba with all expenses paid. I've had editors who tried to pressure me into accepting assignments in Havana, and I've been able to convince them that long before I became a journalist, I was already Cuban and that my Cuban principles took precedence.
Don't get me wrong; there is nothing I want more than to return to my homeland — at least for a short visit — but not this way, not by capitulating to tyrants as Obama has.
In the deal cut between the Obama administration and the Cuban dictatorship, Cuba released an innocent American (whom it never should have held in the first place) in exchange for three tried and convicted Cuban spies who had been held in U.S. prisons. The Obama administration keeps telling us the exchange was actually for an unnamed (Cuban) CIA spy who had been serving for 20 years in a Cuban prison. But though that may be true, pretending that it would have made the exchange only for an unnamed Cuban — without also obtaining the release of American contractor Alan Gross — is an insult to our intelligence. Gross' release had been sought by the Obama administration for several years.
Nevertheless, the Obama administration keeps telling us Gross was released by Cuba solely on "humanitarian grounds" — because it doesn't want to acknowledge the terrible precedent it is establishing by negotiating for Gross' release. If releasing innocent Americans becomes the standard by which we make concessions, many other rogue governments are going to start detaining Americans in exchange for such capitulation.
So we are asked to believe that the Cuban government is suddenly "humanitarian" and that Obama gave up the franchise for a player to be named later.
In fact, Obama has been seeking a relationship with the Castro brothers since he became president. It was Cuba that got in his way by continually rejecting any form of concession that would lead to freedom. The dictatorship showed no respect for human rights, kept imprisoning dissidents, allowed no freedom of expression or the press, and restricted civil liberties in ways that most Americans would find intolerable. Government goons were still harassing old ladies dressed in white and carrying flowers as a form of protest.
So what does Obama do? Without any such concession, he not only gives up the three Cuban spies but also vows to establish diplomatic relations with one of the world's most repressive and oldest dictatorships, second only to the one he openly criticizes in North Korea.
And the American news media, with very few exceptions, are cheerfully welcoming detente with Havana, without questioning the price Obama intends to pay or its cost-effectiveness. You see American journalists naively expecting American tourists to take freedom to Cuba, although other tourists who have been visiting Cuba for decades have not been able to ease the government's repression. You see them naively expecting Cuba to turn over the American fugitives it harbors. You hear them expecting Cuba to buy American goods, when they should know that Cuba can only buy on credit, on which it would probably default and which would eventually be subsidized by American taxpayers. You see journalists more concerned about acquiring Cuban cigars than freedom for the Cuban people. You see opinion writers celebrating our new friendship with a regime that censors critical opinion. It's disgraceful!
If Obama had announced a series of engagements by which the Castro regime would gradually release its choking grip on the Cuban people, if he had some assurance that freedom is on its way, perhaps some gradual U.S. concessions would have been acceptable. But in regard to human rights and civil liberties for the Cuban people, Obama got nada. And in a Havana speech, dictator Raul Castro confirmed that he gave up nada.
"We won the war," Castro declared in a televised speech before his puppet parliament — as if Obama and the American people had surrendered. He said changes in Cuba will need to be gradual so his one-party government can maintain a system of "prosperous and sustainable communism."
In other words, he'll take whatever concessions Obama gives him, as long as he retains absolute control of his Stalinist-style machine of repression.
Of course, we've seen American presidents betray Cuban freedom before. At the Bay of Pigs, John F. Kennedy abandoned a CIA-trained invasion force of Cuban exiles, who expected American air support that never came. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy sold out Cuba's freedom by cutting a deal with the Soviet Union and promising that Cuba would not be invaded from U.S. soil — even by Cuban-Americans. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter allowed the dictatorship to empty its prison and export its worst criminals to the United States. During the Clinton administration, we caved to the dictatorship by giving up a boy — Elian Gonzalez — whose mother drowned while trying to ensure that he would grow up to be a free man. And now Obama, long suspected of socialist tendencies, makes huge overtures to Cuba without obtaining any significant concessions.
Did you notice that all of these American presidents have been Democrats? Does it help you understand why so many Cuban-Americans are so passionately Republican? Sometimes they become excessively Republican, supporting the GOP on issues that negatively affect Latinos and have nothing to do with Cuba. But at times like these, when another Democrat has stabbed them in the back, can you blame them?
Frankly, Republican politicians have given us great lip service and done very little to help the cause of Cuba's freedom. But Democrats have sustained the dictatorship. And Obama is doing it again.
For the past week, although I was supposed to be writing another column reporting on my Great Hispanic American History Tour across the United States, my mind has been driving my fingers to write about Cuba.
When the news gets this personal, when it affects your own values and family history, when you have written hundreds of articles and columns chronicling the suffering of Cubans who also sought to be free, you can't write about anything else — not with a clear conscience.
Frankly, I think I would burst if I weren't able to express myself freely about my homeland this week.
But of course, if you believe the media, I'm now part of a minority of Cuban-Americans — and of all Americans — who still resist diplomatic relations with Cuba. Using polls that are skewed to produce whatever results the pollsters desire, the media keep repeating — like a broken record — that young Cuban-Americans and all Americans are open to detente, whereas only "old guard" Cubans like me are resisting a change in U.S. policy.
Yet even in those skewed polls — including one conducted by the Atlantic Council earlier this year — when all Americans are reminded of the atrocities of the Cuban government and its unwillingness to make concessions, the majority of them still stand firm against shaking the bloody hands of ruthless dictators.
Nevertheless, for standing up for freedom, "old guard' Cuban-Americans are being ostracized in the liberal media. We are supposed to be dinosaurs standing in the way of progress.
So I say, let's establish diplomatic relations; let's lift the economic embargo; let's succumb to dictators. And then let's see what naive supporters of detente will say when the repression continues. It won't take long for Cuba's sad reality to smack them in the face.
Mind you, this is a regime that made 8,410 political arrests in the first 11 months of this year. Only one day before Obama and Castro told the world that they are newfound comrades, the Cuban Coast Guard rammed and sank a boat with 32 people, including children, who were trying to escape the island-prison on board.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope that the monsters ruling Cuba can suddenly turn into angels. I hope I can see a free Cuba before I join my elders in a Miami cemetery. But forgive me for not joining the chorus of new "useful fools," now led by Obama, who believe detente can do away with Cuban repression.
Forgive me for believing that Obama has diminished my chances of seeing a free Cuba again.
As a 10-year-old boy, I questioned my parents' reasoning for leaving Cuba. But as I grew older, I became increasingly grateful for their decision to allow me to live as a free man and for their letting me live in a country where calling the president a fool will not get me arrested.
Next week, as promised, the Great Hispanic American History Tour again picks up the trail of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, with his search for a civilization called Quivira — all the way up to the plains of Kansas.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.