Beyond the Rhetoric…What the U.S. can learn from Cuba

People must wonder why the United States has been so hard on Cuba for the past 55 years.  The answer is simple. Led by the incomparable Fidel Castro, this small island nation took on the strongest nation on earth and, by all accounts, succeeded.

Having the feared Soviet Union as Cuba’s a benefactor and “sugar daddy” gave us pause every time we became angry about something. But even after the Soviet Union fell, Cuba kept up its programs and here we are today about to end all hostility.

Before the Communist revolution, Cuba was a gangster’s paradise. All of the mob figures had investments on the island. Castro overthrew the corrupt Battista government and kicked out all of the criminal families and the bourgeois class that oppressed the common folks.

Having a communist dictatorship 90 miles off our southern shore was not an easy thing for American politics.  Many American politicians vowed to end the Castro-run government but they all failed. Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush 2 all failed in their efforts to destroy the Cuban government.

Now, President Barack Obama has decided to go another path and make friends with Cuba. This is going to be a bold paradigm shift. We have spent billions of dollars trying to defeat the leadership of this small nation and have now come to the conclusion that we should try another method – friendship.  This is the boldest move President Obama has made in foreign affairs.  If he succeeds, it will be part of his legacy – doing something the others before him could not do.

The quality of life in Cuba rivals many Third World nations.  In fact, in terms of health care, literacy, cost of living and the like, Cuba has many advantages. Recently, when the Ebola epidemic broke out in Western Africa, it was Cuba that surprised other nations with their expertise in addressing such a medical threat. If we would swallow our pride and emulate some of the medical models developed by Cuba we would be better off.

They no longer have sickle cell anemia but we still do. They have HIV/AIDS under control but we don’t. They offer free medical training for students throughout impoverished lands at a rate far greater than us. The lifespan of a Black Cuban far exceeds that of an African American.  Cuba has offered free medical training to some of our poverty stricken areas such as the Mississippi Delta but we won’t take advantage of what they offer.  We should also emulate their education system which has greater literacy rates than ours.

Acknowledging Cuba’s accomplishments would be a great start in our new relationship with the country. Imagine the new professional athletes that will be coming to play here in the United States. The infusion of Cuban athletes will be a game changer in sports such as boxing, soccer, basketball, track and field, etc.

Cuba has some of the best civil engineers and construction managers in the world.  I have witnessed some of their projects being built on every continent of the world. Their work is excellent, affordable and reliable.  It would be great if many of our Black businesses would joint venture with them and take on projects around the world as they do. There is nothing we could not build.  As our new relationship builds, such activity can become a reality.  This would build Black business capacity in this nation and create jobs by the millions. Yes, Cuba could greatly help us to get around the racial adversity that we face in this current economy.

What if we stopped relying on the racist construction unions in this nation and started training programs in the construction trades with Cuban engineers?  This way, we could start to populate the journeyman fields with Black youth as opposed to being subjected to racist and sexist apprenticeship programs that perpetuate our construction industry.  We have been fighting these programs for more than 40 years.

We can just use our own with the help of Cuban expertise.  Using Cuban education and Cuban construction apprenticeship programs – free of discrimination and poor results.  Yes, I am asking Cuba for their help in these areas.  We need it badly and Cubans have shown that it is not a biological or racial matter.  It is about commitment and equal opportunity.

My mentor, Arthur A. Fletcher, once told me while we were in Havana that Cuba will one day become the “Hong Kong” of the Caribbean.  That is about to happen and it would be in our vested interest to ally ourselves with them and emulate their destiny.  Imagine, Black America needs Cuba.

Harry C. Alford, New Pittsburgh Courier

January 4, 2015

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce®.  Website:  Email:

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