The Edmond Sun

October 23, 2012

What has not happened is as telling as what has

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze” the fictional detective advises his colleague Dr. Watson that sometimes the non happening of an event, such as when a dog does not bark when someone approaches a door is very significant. And that observation is on occasion applicable to world affairs as well. Recently, Venezualan President Hugo Chavez won re-election after a hard-fought campaign.  

Shortly after Chavez first took office he aligned his nation with Cuba, and has supplied that island nation with oil at reduced costs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which had been Cuba’s patron since the early 1960s, and supplied it with fuel from the oil fields in the Caucasuses, the Cuban economy foundered for a time until Venezuela agreed to to supply it with oil.

Chavez developed a warm personal relationship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, and when Chavez travelled to that island nation earlier this year for cancer treatment pictures of Castro and Chavez together were widely distributed throughout both Cuba and Venezula. But when Chavez was re-elected, there were no reports of him receiving a congratulatory phone call from the 86-year-old Castro, and there have been reports that Castro may recently have become physically or mentally incapacitated as a result of a fatal illness

Several years ago, Fidel Castro officially gave up his position as Cuba’s president after suffering from an undisclosed ailment and his brother Raoul Castro  succeeded him. The younger Castro, who is 81, launched a series of reform to stimulate the moribund Cuban economy, and those measures included the right for citizens to own  their own homes and operate small businesses.  

Last week, Raoul Castro issued a new policy that could result in the communist system that  Fidel Castro  imposed on Cuba a half a century ago not long  surviving its founder. Like most communist nations, Cuba has historically restricted the right of its citizens to travel to other nations, and it was only those who were officially in favor with the Cuban government were permitted to travel abroad.

But  last week Raul Castro announced that beginning Jan. 14, 2013, Cubans will be free to travel to foreign nations  and can remain outside of Cuba for up to two years without losing their citizenship. Under American law, any Cuban citizen who arrives on dry land in the U.S. is entitled to lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.

In May of 1989 the Republic of Hungary removed the barbed wire that was situated on its border with Austria and declared its border with Austria to be open. Citizens of the communist nation of East Germany were prohibited from traveling to any country outside of the Soviet bloc of states in Eastern Europe, and Hungary was at that time an ally of the Soviet Union. Soon thousands of East German citizens were traveling to Hungary where they began to cross the border into Austria and then to West Germany. Under West German law, any resident of East Germany was entitled to immediate citizenship rights in West Germany. Several months later the Berlin Wall was opened and thousands of East Germans began to flee to West Germany. Their flight resulted in the collapse of the East German state and its  eventual unification with West Germany.

It is possible that a  somewhat similar event may occur as Cubans leave that island nation for the U.S. and other  states  where Cuban exiles live and have achieved prosperity.  And the Cubans who return to their homeland after living abroad may demand more freedom than the Castro government grants its citizens.

Yet many students of Cuba warn that the Castro government is capable of putting bureaucratic hurdles in place that will make it difficult for its citizens to leave. The government controlled media has indicated that it may restrict the issuance of exit visas to ensure “the capital of the revolution” is not lost, which could prohibit the departure of physicians and other professionals. And the U.S. culture and economy would be enriched by an influx of Cubans, and it is conceivable that in several years time  Cuban restaurants and Cuban artists will make their way to the Oklahoma City-Edmond area.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.