Vicente Citarella left Cuba for the United States in 1960 when he was 20 years old. It was the same day Fidel Castro flew to New York on his infamous trip to the United Nations General Assembly.
“September 18, 1960. All Cubans of my generation remember the exact day we came to the United States,” Vicente told us.
The world has watched in recent weeks as the Cuban people take to the streets to protest their communist government and demand freedom. “Libertad,” they chant.
We spoke with Vicente to hear from someone who has experienced both a free country and Castro’s oppression.
Here in the United States, the Democrat party is being overtaken by its far left, and their silence on the protests in Cuba is further revealing where the party stands on the issue of socialism and its place in the United States. To protect our country and the freedom that millions have fought for over the decades, it’s important to look back and learn from history.
“At first, the majority of Cubans were in favor of what [Castro] was proposing. He had denied that he was a communist, had promised that he’d bring democracy back to the country, and most of us believed him,” Vicente recalled, acknowledging that he, too, was a young idealist at the time. But then entered Fidel’s brother, Raul, and Che Guevara. “There was concern when communists started to get appointed to positions of control, but we foolishly believed they were going to help — that Che and Raul may be communists but Fidel was in control and he was not a communist.”
Little by little, Castro took more control. He increased the power of his position, nationalized land and properties and “blamed the Americans for everything.” Anyone that criticized what the government was doing was “accused of being a counter-revolutionary and unpatriotic,” Vicente said.
As the country quickly deteriorated, Vicente’s parents urged him to go to the United States, finish school, and then come back when things settled down.
“My intention was to return home for Christmas,” he told us, and he headed to Miami with $150 (the max allowed by the government) plus $200 that his aunt gave him hidden in his neck tie. Vicente was accepted to Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey as a junior, was given a student loan by the school to cover the tuition, and worked part-time in the cafeteria to pay for room and living expenses.
“Christmas came, and my parents said ‘everyone is leaving, don’t come back,” Vicente recalled, as he set the scene of current events for us at the time: In January 1961, President Eisenhower broke diplomatic relations with Cuba as a result of Castro’s reforms and the Cuban government’s increased cooperation with the Soviet Union. In April 1961, a Cuban exiles force that had been trained by the U.S. attempted a military invasion of the island, but the Bay of Pigs Invasion, as it was called, failed when President Kennedy, at the last moment, declined to provide military support that had been promised. After that, Castro increased his control and repression even further and Cubans lost hope of overthrowing Castro, so many more decided to leave. The Cuban population exodus has been, proportionally, the largest in the history of the Americas.
Vicente’s parents left Cuba and arrived in the U.S. in 1962. In order to obtain an exit permit, they had to turn over their home and contents to the government and were not allowed to take anything with them except for a change of clothes. Vicente would not return to Cuba until 1998 when he went back to visit his family. He became an engineer and worked at ExxonMobil for nearly 40 years, met his wife in New York City and had three children.
We asked him what he thought of the current situation in Cuba, and in particular what he thought of organizations, even Democrats in Congress, blaming the United States for the conditions in Cuba. For example, this from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14): “What’s extraordinarily important for us to communicate is…[the] U.S. contributions to the suffering of Cubans.” She added in a statement: “The embargo is absurdly cruel and, like too many other U.S. policies targeting Latin Americans, the cruelty is the point.”
Vicente calls these narratives ridiculous. “The embargo is an excuse that the Castro regime has used all along. If you really look at the details — the United States can send food, health materials and others to Cuba. What is causing all the problems in Cuba is not the embargo — it’s the dictatorship and the mismanagement of the economy. The embargo does not prohibit Cuba to negotiate or trade with any other country in the world. It is a political tool.”
According to the State Department, “the United States is the largest provider of food and agricultural products to Cuba, with exports of those goods valued at $220.5 million in 2018.” The U.S. also sends millions of dollars in medicines a year to Cuba, and Cuba conducts trade with dozens of other countries.
There are no examples of this type of government leading to a prosperous, healthy nation, Vicente added, and yet we’re seeing an openness to it. He believes a lack of education, involvement, and interest in the matter is to blame.
“There is a lack of education and a lack of interest in what is happening [in Cuba]. It’s very frustrating. And the press doesn’t help. You cannot avoid — you need to get involved in politics and you need to know the truth. You do have to get involved and fight for our system,” Vicente said passionately, because as someone who fled his own country for the U.S., recent trends and political rhetoric here are causing him to ask himself: “Where will I go now? We don’t have any place to go from here.”
To those brushing off the alarm or who think what is happening in Cuba is too far away to affect the U.S., listen to and learn from Vicente.
“In Cuba, we never thought we’d be a communist country — Russia was too far away. Communism was a doctrine that didn’t have any support in Cuba. We said at the time: ‘it cannot happen here, it cannot happen here.’ But it did happen there.”
House Republicans will continue to support the Cubans fighting for freedom and prosperity as well as defend our rights and liberties here in the United States.