On June 17, I anxiously watched Trump denounce Obama’s shifts in American policy towards Cuba and roll some of the changes back, at least partially. Four days later I was supposed to leave on a flight to Havana to begin a trip I had been planning for three months. It was to attend a gathering of Jesuits in formation, see Cuba as it is today, and visit the home my family left over 50 years ago.
Change is slow in American politics. But things have been changing quickly of late: what if our Cuba policy was about to change abruptly? I decided I would call the people that should have the best information: Cuba Travel Services. If you click the link and read the banner, you’ll see reassuring text that did not yet exist post-Trump’s speech. When I called them, they told me I won’t have anything to worry about until an official statement is released by OFAC on Friday. Well, Friday is several days after I leave, so I’m definitely getting there… It occurred to me that this wouldn’t guarantee a flight back from Cuba, without which I could not leave. It’s not that I was afraid of being stranded (very unlikely), but I figured that I needed to do my due diligence in the event something did go wrong – right?
I picked up the phone again, and this time called Southwest Airlines International. After a frustrating 40 minutes on hold, I finally got someone on the line who told me that I don’t have to worry about any of the flights from Cuba changing – most likely. Great! That’ll do. At least at this point, if something goes wrong, I can say that I tried. To be honest, if I got stranded in Cuba, I’m sure I would enjoy ministry there tremendously.
After the commotion, the calls, and covering my butt in the event of complications, the flight departed on time. It was a fascinating three weeks in Cuba.
There’s so much to be said about that trip that might come at another time. For now, I want to share one point about US democracy that only a combination of a Trump-style leader and an outside perspective could make so clear.
Our democracy is functional. It works. It provides real representation and the different branches of government actually have the power to to check each other. The Cubans in the United States come from a country of 11.5 million inhabitants, but are politically influential enough in a country of 320 million citizens that the president makes policy changes they desire, or at least some members of their community desire.
And if things do oftentimes move slowly in this great nation, exasperatingly slowly at times, it is because of that vitally important power of checks and balances. Just look at Trump’s agenda. Trump has had 2 executive orders on immigration from ‘terror-prone’ regions blocked by the judicial branch, the legislation proposed to repeal and replace Obamacare died in the Senate, and the proposal for a 20% income tax on goods from Mexico to pay for a wall was dropped from tax reform plans that are being proposed.
Indeed, all Latin Americans I met were surprised that Trump, a political strongman, has not been able to simply do everything he promised. That is something we should not take for granted. No one else is doing so.