“Puerto Rico and Cuba are the two wings of one bird. They receive blows or bullets in the same heart.”
Many Puerto Ricans and Cubans are familiar with the lines from the1895 poem “A Cuba” (To Cuba) by poet Lola Rodríguez de Tió, written at the dawn of the Cuban-Spanish-American conflict in which Puerto Rico and Cuba – united in heritage, language and a common oppressor– sided against Spain. The Puerto Rican poet yearned for the fusion of Cuba and Puerto Rico into a “new motherland.” But it was not to be. Cuba gained independence but entered into the orbit of the U.S., which took Puerto Rico and the Philippines as possessions.
The poem comes to mind because of President Barack Obama’s upcoming trip to Cuba – the first in over 80 years for a U.S. president – to culminate normalizing of relations and signaling an America more open to Cuba after over decades of restrictions and hostilities. Cuba, it must be stated, has always been open to the rest of the world, so it’s the United States that is changing more rapidly than Cuba, which still denies its 11 million citizens basic human rights and where Cubans still struggle to eke out a living. Lest we forget.
Obama’s planned March trip comes at a time when the outlook for the two wings of one bird are diametrically different, as has happened throughout the 20th century. For Cuba, things are looking up. It may have crumbling infrastructure and scarcity of goods and services but Cuba’s economy is slowly opening up to competition, new ideas, new opportunities. The Castro brothers – Fidel and Raúl – are nearing the end of life, generating speculation and, yes, hope of potential positive political changes. It’s exciting. All eyes are on Cuba because, finally, the sun is also rising in Cuba.
Puerto Rico, meanwhile, is on the wane, burdened with $72 billion in bond debt that it has no way of repaying. Saddled with a political system – both internal and external in its relations with the U.S. – that is stuck in time, making it ever more obvious that Puerto Rico doesn’t call its own shots. The House and Senate deny Puerto Rico access to bankruptcy protection for certain agencies to help lighten the load. Politicians like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio utter harsh words against the island while “welcoming” Puerto Ricans – who are U.S. citizens and do not need to be “welcomed” here. The island economy is in a 10-year funk and tens of thousands of young islanders flee each year, a great chunk to Central Florida, seeking the warmth and vibrancy of other suns. If the old Cuba is no more, then Puerto Rico has become the new Cuba.
The two wings of one bird are as separated as throughout the 20th century. But this time as Puerto Rico and Cuba recalibrate perhaps they will meet somewhere in the middle.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor