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

  • April 5, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Emily, you need to open up a dictionary.

  • April 5, 2016 at 2:09 pm

    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.

  • April 5, 2016 at 7:49 am

    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?

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