Obama in Cuba: A Lesson in Bridge Building

Veronica Vega

It was worth it!  On Dec. 17, 2014, San Lazarus Day, Barack Obama announced renewed relations with Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — Following President Barack Obama’s visit, there’s been talk as explosive as gunpowder, giving off sparks of hope.

That a foreign leader should speak of the real needs of Cubans for the first time in more than fifty years is much more than one of the numerous “surrealist” details of our history. It is the implacable victory of time and logic.

An old aphorism says that “you can run a lie but the truth will always catch up to you.” The same, of course, holds for nearly six decades of mass suggestion.

The simplicity of truth cleared a path for itself through Obama’s visit, particularly his address at Havana’s Gran Teatro, the venue chosen to conceal the sympathy that this political leader had secured among the island’s inhabitants, a sympathy that sparked off the shouts and cheering heard during his visit to the old town’s cathedral, a spontaneous choir formed by an invisible, contained and held-back crowd.

This is a population accustomed to political functions that do nothing to change their quality of life, merely guaranteeing the basic to scrape by, a population deprived of the right to express opinions about their situation or their future that followed a diplomatic development with interest for the first time.

Through a speech that the Cuban media immediately labelled “superficial and sensationalist,” Obama offered us a lesson in the building of a bridge on a foundation of past conflicts, beyond resentment and differences. This way, he dissolved, not with a blow but with a smile, that ghostly wall set up by the “eternal anti-imperialist enemy.” To do this, he turned to the viability of reason, our countries’ geographical proximity and the history the two nations share.

It’s shameful that a foreign president should be the first to speak openly about the pain endured by Cuban families, pain which the government encouraged in the form of resentment, psychological rifts brought about by confrontations that cared nothing (and had no respect for) families ties, affection or human needs.

EXILE. Illustration by Yasser Castellanos

It’s shameful that a foreign president should be the first to have a frank exchange, not with the opposition (unthinkable within a system that allegedly needs to protect itself by discrediting all who dissent), but with the private sector, the first to make an appearance on a comedy show and demonstrate that he is, not a demiurge that has no other family other than “the people” (an absurd proposition), but a flesh-and-blood person with a wife and daughters (visible to the naked eye), a person who can use Cuban slang and salute us with an informal “whaddup.”

Most importantly, he showed himself to be a politician concerned with concrete problems and immediate solutions, who doesn’t pretend we are equal and suggests getting along in our differences, a man who speaks without exaggerated or theatrical gestures, who doesn’t read a prepared speech, who doesn’t invoke an unchanging past or remote future, eternal ideas that do not put food on the table or clothes on our bodies and, what’s worse, have stripped us of the dignity of acting and living the way we deem right.

Of course, a single visit and speech aren’t enough to build the bridges Cuba needs after so much moral and physical destruction, but the spell was broken for a few hours, demonstrating that the truth is here and is the only road, not towards an idyllic future, but to a concrete present.

11 thoughts on “Obama in Cuba: A Lesson in Bridge Building

  • Emily, you need to open up a dictionary.

  • Thank you Bob for filling me in on the Castro family. I had not realized Raul was widowed or for that matter overshadowed by his wife and daughter. I do know more about the family of Fidel and certainly have visited the area in Granma where Celia Sanchez and Fidel fought together in the mountains there. I am trying to absorb the culture and history of this unique island of people. One cannot help but be amazed by their abilities to get through such conditions . A semi-westernized state , frozen in time no more . And I see from the comments there are those who see Obama’s visit and his speech as disingenuous . I am thinking that they did not read his first book. I have visited areas of the country since 1999 staying with friends or at the universities or city hotels (helping some of the Sudanese “orphans” to relocate overseas). All the Sudanese have since left, but by then , I had fallen in love with the people and the country’s magnificence and beauty. I have never visited Central or South America or any other Carribean country and thus I cannot compare but I have respect for the Cuban ingenuity, intelligence and tenacity.

  • The definition of an embargo is: A governmental restriction on trade for political purposes.

    The definition of a blockade is: the isolating, closing off, or surrounding of a place, as a port, harbor, or city, by hostile ships or troops to prevent entrance or exit

    Does anyone believe there are US warships and planes preventing other ships and planes from entering or leaving Cuba?

  • Vilma Espin, Raul’s wife, was considered a more important person than he was until her death in 2007. A combatant in the Revolution, she became president of the Federation of Cuban Women and was responsible for many of Cuba’s social programs. That organization played a major role in the elevation of women’s status in Cuba as well as heading the literacy campaign which increased the country’s literacy rate from around 50% to over 99% in one year. Today, she remains more of a Cuban hero than her husband.

    Mariela Castro Espin, their daughter is the director of the National Center for Sex Education and an internationally recognized LBGT activist. She is also a member of the National Assembly of People’s Power, the Cuban legislature.

    Fidel has at least 10 children by his 3 wives and others. None have achieved that status of Raul’s wife and children. However, his lifetime time lover, Celia Sanchez who also a revolutionary combatant, is considered by some to be the true decision maker in important matters and Fidel more of an implementer. She died in 1980 and is more admired by the Cuban people that any other modern day political figure.

  • Just because the US government calls it an embargo does not make it so, it is a BLOCKADE AGAINST CUBA!!!!

  • Raul’s wife died many years ago. Fidel is with his third wife.

  • I am not sure why my comments are getting censured.

  • You all have been taken in by an expert manipulator. He is using you for his legacy which has been a series of broken promises. I saw an old video of Fidel crying “Hope and change!” Those are the very words Obama repeated endlessly before he broke all his promises…

  • Veronica , you have written exactly what I felt about Obama’s speech and his family’s presence in Cuba. I just could not have said it as insightfully as you have. And as for the well cared for Castro family, why do the Cubans and the rest of us never see the spouses, the children of this oligarchy ? Are their women and children enslaved also by this ideology? What kind of wives are they, that they do not care for their people enough to go out amongst them and see how they are hurting?

  • Wow! It’s weird to hear the criticisms of Obama’s visit from the motley collection of racists, anti-US haters, and Castro sycophants. They all include the same basic criticism. Because of the past relationship the US has maintained with Cuba, Obama must be lying or naive to seek out a new and more positive relationship. The irony of this criticism is that Obama’s remarks are indeed based upon the past relationship. He has said over and over again, the former strategy wasn’t working. He acknowledges that. BECAUSE it didn’t work, he says it’s time to try something new. I’m no fan of rapprochement with the Castros. I don’t trust them. But I agree that trying to isolate Cuba didn’t work. I agree that the embargo’s limited effect on Cuba was largely felt by the Cuban people while the Castro oligarchy continued to enjoy the good life. Moreover, the Castros exaggerated the effects of the embargo as political cover for their failed socialist policies. History will record Obama’s visit as a turning point. Obama’s legacy will include having opened the door to improving Cuban relations. The naysayers will soon be forgotten.

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