In Search of a Quiet Consensus
From an isolated home in Honduras to being a key player in the reinstatement of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
Ricardo Zuniga has not only brought immense change to his life, but a brighter future for Cubans and Americans. Spending most of his childhood in Honduras and Arlington, Virginia, Mr. Zuniga decided to take the initiative to study Foreign Affairs and Latin American studies. Yet, school was not the main reason for pursuing his career, it was rather his determination and great interest in the well being of all people that really led to the complete reconstruction of Cuba and America’s relationship. Up until now, people have still questioned his ability to create such a drastic adjustment.
It is less about politics and more about the people and the economics.
One of his main inspirations to take action against the animosity which was directed towards the Cuban government was his own personal connections and ties to the country of Cuba. “There was a big crackdown. Many people were arrested, many of my contacts were arrested and so I stayed in touch with the contacts and friends in Cuba.” With friends arrested, work loaded, and people exasperated, Mr. Zuniga knew that he would have to help make amends between US and Cuba. “I knew the issue pretty well, so I ended up spending something like six years working on Cuban issues one way or another.’”
After six years of vigorous paperwork and writing, he still was able to maintain his drive and passion for Cuba and its reincarnation as a prosperous country – stating, “I really liked working there… I think there is something special about Cuba and each person has this kind of incredible story about their survival and how they made it.” Because of this, he felt that “Cubans themselves deserve to have more freedom than they have.”
Even with all this enthusiastic and affirmative attitude that was put into mending the broken relationship between US and Cuba, opposing comments have been made and marches have been held, after December 17th, 2014, when the Cuban – American relationship was successfully reestablished. While one woman was found sobbing from exhilaration, the heart of many townspeople were throbbing with exasperation. Not everyone was happy – old school Cubans in south Miami were clearly not so. Surprisingly, the marching stampede did not seem to shake Mr. Zuniga’s ground. When shown and asked about the exceedingly contrasting views, he claimed that “There are many people, who for many good reasons, are suspicious of any kind of improvement in relations between the United States and Cuba.’’ According to Mr. Zuniga, this was due to the people having “… experienced hardships in Cuba directly, having lost everything they owned, having spent time in jail, and even being killed under serious circumstances.”
He even knew people, personally, who have spent 20 years,imprisoned, in chains. Even as the negative feelings about the improvement of relations between US and Cuba are unveiled, Zuniga still remains unbroken and affirming that, “One thing I will say is that we decided right from the beginning, that we were going to continue to push hard on the issue of human rights.”
Eighteen months of strenuous work later, and today we see former enemies shaking hands and sixty year-old animosities laid aside. This accomplishment, put his name and face on the front page of newspapers all over the world.
So, when asked, “What is it like to switch from being a working father, where your family and friends are your biggest fans, to fame – where the entire country becomes your fan?” Mr. Zuniga answered with, “Actually, you know, it’s funny. One of my friends asked me what is it like to be famous? And I said well I don’t know because it doesn’t feel that way. It feels very much like when you’re doing it, it feels like you’re working on your normal business. It’s not until you see other people talking about it that you notice it. Going to Miami and seeing how many people in the Cuban community were so happy, was for me, really cool. And that felt very good…”
With millions of happy people and being able to regain a connection with their Cuban and American families, you’d expect Mr. Zuniga to have all of his life goals fulfilled. Ironically, it was connection with his own family that he was losing in the process of reuniting other people. Because of the incredible time demands of his diplomatic responsibilities, that same thing he fought for, was now escaping him.
With two teenage daughters, Caroline and Sarah, two cats, Pippa and Holly, a pet snake, Fluffy Dave, and his wife, Christina, at home, it was tough from being away from all that love. “The worst part about the job at the White House was not being able to spend enough time with family. That was the biggest, biggest, biggest problem by far. And that’s true for everybody who works at the White House. There’s a lot of people who work really, really hard on tough issues. They’re just going all the time, you know – 7 days a week working on this. So it’s a sprint.”
Happily, for Mr. Z and Fluffy D, he has completed this race and will soon stroll the beaches of Brazil – his new home. On the work side, he will “…be doing a lot more public affairs work and helping to train younger, diplomatic, officers [at the U.S Consulate in Sao Paulo] and as well work at a diplomatic service.”
But why did he put himself through all this hassle? Why is he doing this job and why did he choose to do something as difficult as this task? Mr. Zuniga answered, “The reason I do it, is because I think that when we do it, we make things a little bit safer and a little bit better. I think that that’s the thing when you have the opportunity to work for the government… You have the chance to affect a lot of lives, even if it’s just a little bit you can do a little bit to make life a little bit better and that I think this a great opportunity and a great responsibility.”
Ricardo Zuniga did not do this because he wanted the fame, recognition, or praise, but because he believes, “People should do what they really love to do, and hopefully do it with a view to having that impact to however small it is on the world around them.”
They say you no matter how far you go, you should never forget where you came from. Ricardo Zuniga is a living example of how love for one own’s people can transform your life. His desire to change what he believed to be an unfair situation brought him recognition, while his heroic determination allowed him to change million of lives. Sacrifices have been made by men to achieve their goals, from the beginning of times, and it is men like Ricardo Zuniga, who are willing to make those sacrifices, that are the bedrock of change in society.