Pepe Billete: Cubans and Venezuelans Need to Stand Together

Thousands in Doral protest the Venezuelan regime.
Thousands in Doral protest the Venezuelan regime.
Michael E. Miller

I've always hated the use of the word "Latino" in American mass media, because it's a blanket term that describes a myriad of cultures. It promotes generalities and dilutes many different cultures into one big stereotype, in the minds of non-Latinos and to me. There is nothing I am more honored to describe myself as than a Cuban-American from the 305. However, I can honestly say I feel an equal sense of pride when we Latinos use the term among ourselves to show solidarity and support for one another.

I first felt that pride when I went to San Antonio last year to support the Miami Heat in the finals, and my Mexican people not only welcomed me with open arms but had my back when the AT&T Center banned me from Game 4 and we stood together yelling "¡Libertad!" in front of the arena — until arena security let me into Game 5.

I went to San Antonio alone and expecting the worst after seeing reports of Heat fans getting attacked and almost killed for simply wearing Heat colors. Yet, there I was, dressed in Heat gear from eye to ass, standing with a big group of Mexican Spurs fans who knew I was going in there to sit courtside and yell shit at their team but who still fought for me until they let me into the game. When I asked one of them why they showed el tio so much love, the answer I got was as profoundly meaningful as it was simple: "You're a Latino; we're brothers." I will cherish that memory forever.

The sense of pride and unity I felt that day is the one I channel today in support of the Venezuelan protesters who have literally taken to the streets, ready to die for their freedom. As a Cuban-American bred from hardline Cuban exiles, my hate for communism and oppression runs deep, so it's only natural that I wholeheartedly support their uprising. I know that those Cuban-Americans in Miami who are cut from the same cloth as me feel the same way, but there have been recent images of Venezuelan protesters burning Cuban flags that have upset many in our community and caused some backlash. I'm proud to say that the majority of people I have seen react to these images have understood that the gesture is completely directed toward the obscene presence of Cuban infiltrados in Venezuela's government, but understandably some here in Miami have taken the gesture as a slap to the face.

Because our sense of cultural pride is so deeply ingrained into our identity, it's natural to react with anger at images of our flag being burned, but it's important to keep in mind that this is yet another example of the damage Fidel Castro's regime has done to our cultural identity. The two-and-a-half generations the Castros have been in power have given rise to a population forced to accept la maraña and defrauding by the government as a way of life. They purposefully associated their revolution with the revolt for Cuban independence from Spain and hijacked a sacred symbol of our culture — the Cuban flag — to represent their corrupt and oppressive regime.

Unfortunately, it's one of the most effective ways protesters opposed to Cuban communism and Castro's omnipotent control of the Venezuelan government can convey the message of anti-Cuba to the international community at a moment's glance. The symbolic meaning of the Cuban flag lives in a limbo of duality. To Cubans in Miami, it represents the beauty of our culture, our heritage, and our continued opposition to a dictator who has been hell-bent on destroying our identity for 50 years. To everyone else in the world, it's the flag of a nation run by communists.

Even more tragic is the fact that it's this kind of ambiguity and blurred line of interpretation that the Castros have exploited countless times to segment the American popular opinion from the views of the exile community responsible for perpetuating the Castro opposition long after the end of the cold war. They did it with Elián, they did it with the shootdown of los Hermanos al Rescate's plane, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if it was revealed that they staged these images to prevent Cuban-Americans here from supporting Venezuelan protesters.

After all, Venezuela is Cuba's golden goose, and it is in the Castros' best interest that we as Cuban-Americans deviate our attention from the uprising. What better way to do that than to use our deep-rooted cultural pride against us? A strong, unified opposition to Castro in Miami, among all its inhabitants, is a death sentence to the Castro regime. This is the most important reason why we as a Cuban community need to look beyond these flag burnings and support our Venezuelan brothers and sisters as they bleed for the freedom of their country.

The Cuban exile community in Miami is one of the most powerful allies the Venezuelan protesters can have in their struggle. Though we may be small in numbers, the power of our community is one of the strongest of all the minority groups in America. Our full-fledged support for their cause could likely tip the balance in favor of the protesters and lead to a Venezuela free of communist oppression and, eventually, a Castro-free Cuba. We have the wealth, the politicians, and a powerful voice to support their cause; all we need now is that spark to ignite the indomitable passion that has gotten us so far in this country despite the odds.

With that said, I present you with some facts to keep in mind, so at the very least, you can say you made a conscious and informed decision about whether show your support and not blame something so easily disguised in a fog of ambiguity.

The Castros literally run Venezuela:

• Last year, Venezuela's former ambassador to the United Nations, Diego Arria, told El Nuevo Herald that "Venezuela is an occupied country. The Venezuelan regime is a puppet controlled by the Cubans. It is no longer Cuban tutelage; it is control."

• According to the Wall Street Journal, "Cuba controls all the levers of state security and intelligence that help chavismo keep a lid on dissent." This means that not only are there Cuban military personnel present in substantial quantities in Venezuela but there are Cubans holding high-ranking positions in the Venezuelan government.

• Maduro was educated and groomed for the position he currently holds in Venezuela at Cuba's special school for political leadership, Escuela Ñico López, in the '80s.

• According to the Washington Times, not only do Maduro and other high-ranking officials travel to Cuba when summoned by the Castro brothers but these officials have been caught on tape reporting to Fidel and Raul. They have been recorded talking about how they planned on following through with Fidel Castro's advice to "get rid of these bourgeois elections because [voters] make mistakes [and] here, with elections the way they are, we could be struck down. They could knock the revolution down."

Eliminating the communist regime in Venezuela will weaken the communist government in Cuba and could finally lead to an end of communism on the island:

• Former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich said in an interview that the unrest in Venezuela "absolutely" can spread to Cuba if those vital oil subsidies are interrupted.

• Venezuela provides Cuba with more than half of its energy. Venezuelan oil is Castro's lifeline. Cut the umbilical cord and change is imminent. Communist Cuba is not in a position to survive another energy shortage.

• It behooves us all as Americans — Republican, Democrat, blanco, negro, chino, o tarru — to be a voice advocating freedom and standing against oppression, no matter where it may occur. But as a Cuban-American living in a city with the highest population of Cubans and Venezuelans in the United States, this particular situation hits closer to home. We are not only united as Latinos but our cultural kinship is one well-documented throughout history. A Venezuelan designed our flag and was promptly executed in front of thousands for fighting the Spanish during the Cuban Revolution for independence. Roberto Torres, a legend of Cuban music, is most famous for his rendition of "Caballo Viejo," a Venezuelan folk song that every Cuban knows by heart. Eight of the 15 paternity suits tu Tio Pepe has had in the past ten years have been filed by Venezuelan FIU students con tremendas nalgas and/or pechugas. Our history runs deep.

This intersecting of our cultures continues to this day. We are literally fighting the same fight against the same enemy regime. It's time that we look beyond the distractions and the bullshit and recognize as a community the same thing those Mexican Spurs fans in San Antonio understood as they stood up for my right to yell obscenities at Manu Ginobili. We are brothers.

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