Obama to Face Cuba Crossfire in Havana

By Fernando Ravsberg

Ravs 1HAVANA TIMES — Calvin Coolidge, the only US president to ever visit Cuba, didn’t run into any major problems while on the island, save, perhaps, the annoyance of having to evade waiters who offered him mojitos and daiquiris, unaware of the fact that Prohibition forbade the consumption of alcohol in the United States.

Obama’s greatest challenge will be avoiding the poisonous darts thrown at him from both ends of the spectrum. On one end, they would want him to put an end to his rapprochement with Cuba, while, on the other, they would like to see him like a Santeria practitioner, dragging himself across Havana on his knees.

Cuban negotiator Josefina Vidal welcomed his decision to visit, saying he will “be treated with the utmost respect and deference.” Here, he will be able to see the changes that have taken place over recent years, “as a result of the Cuban government’s sovereign decisions.”

One of the spokespeople of extremism, however, has published a text brimming with tough-guy boastfulness, concluding the piece with a threatening statement: “let the beast come over, we’re waiting for it.” This way, he proves Churchill right in his claim that adversaries sit at the bench across from you but that the true enemies are inside your party.

At the other end of the spectrum, dissident Jorge Luis Garcia “Antunez” writes that “the presence of President Obama on the island constitutes a very negative gesture; we consider it an offense, an act of disloyalty.” He charges that his visit will give “the regime legitimacy.”

Across the pond, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio try to reap electoral advantages from the situation, and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says it’s “absolutely shameful that Obama is rewarding the Castros with the first visit to Cuba by a sitting American president” (Did she forget about Coolidge?).

The reopening of the Cuban and US embassies was a symbolically important step, but any new US president could revert the rapprochement impelled by Obama and Castro. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

US citizens, however, seem to have grown a little bit tired of anti-Castro spiels, so much so that renowned commentator Chris Matthews declared: “Who’s going to watch a debate between the two Cuban guys? Who’s gonna watch a debate between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz? Who cares?”

What’s truly worrisome for extremists at both ends, what they most fear, is not the symbolic significance of the trip but the intentions of Barack Obama and Raul Castro to take the rapprochement process to a point of no return.

Even Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes acknowledged, during a press conference, that “the US government is looking for a way to make this policy change irreversible, and Obama’s visit will help in that direction.”

There’s much speculation both leaders seeking to make the reestablishment of bilateral relations between the two countries their personal political legacy before the end of their mandates. This is certainly true, but it is only part of the truth.

Through talks with Cuba, Obama seeks to grow closer to a region where the United States is losing influence, despite the fact they once believed it to be their “back yard.” Rhodes insists Cuba is one the reasons why “the United States was isolated in our own hemisphere.”

Both presidents have been able to overlook certain obstacles to sit down and talk. Raul Castro did not make this conditional on the lifting of the embargo and Barack Obama didn’t demand a change in Cuba’s political system. They acted differently and obtained a different result.

The old slogans do no jive with the new exchange between Obama and Castro, but extremists at both ends seem to long for the days of open confrontation. Photo: Raquel Perez Diaz.

This way, the leaders have been able to converse about the exchange of prisoners, mutual debts to settle, migration, the fight against drug and human trafficking, the protection of the environment and disaster responses, the embargo/blockade and even about human rights.

These exchanges breed empathy, that is to say, a better understanding of the points of view of the other. Ben Rhodes declares that “We’re always going to have differences with the Cuban government on the issue of human rights because they have a different political system.”

That declaration marks two immense changes. In the first place, it reveals acceptance of a “different political system” in Cuba. Second, the United States ceases to be the judge of a Cuba accused of violating human rights and becomes its equal, albeit with different perspectives.

Many criticisms can be leveled at the two presidents but their legacy will endure because, beyond the success they have or not, the truth is that no one before them dared make so much progress under the cross-fire of their enemies and, most importantly, their friends.


12 thoughts on “Obama to Face Cuba Crossfire in Havana

  • March 4, 2016 at 8:26 pm
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    Don’t watch Fox or any other “news.” Voted for Obama 2x. No other alternatives. Just know he sucks as a negot8r.

  • February 27, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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    Interesting John. Can you name a successful economic system that is an alternative to Capitalism?

  • February 27, 2016 at 9:31 am
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    Mr. Obama is a natioanl disaster for many Americans. I suggest Cuba get as much as it can from him now. What is coming is a total culutrual reversal not seen in America since President Ragan in 1980. Much that has been done will be undone. A tidal wave is forming. The old left and the old right of America will be washed away. Those who continue to see MSNBC or FOX as the enemy have not seen the bigger picture. Some will leave America in protest, some will be forced to leave. Their departures will not be mourned by the nation as a new America emerges. “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time as come”. We are about to see something as stunning as the instant collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. People power, self relaized, is beyond control.

  • February 26, 2016 at 9:11 pm
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    ANY economic system that is a successful alternative to free enterprise capitalism is considered an existential threat by the .001% who run the United States government.
    Hence Cuba is important out of proportion to its size, wealth or power.
    It is why the government of the United Snakes maintains the embargo which has made Cuba a much poorer country and, in the eyes of the unlearned and the counter-revolutionary propaganda , a failure .
    That the experts in imperialism in some ten consecutive presidencies have maintained the embargo shows just how important Cuba is.

  • February 26, 2016 at 9:04 pm
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    I think you need to shoot your television .
    As the bumper sticker says:
    “Still hearing those crazy voices ?
    Shut off Fox News.”

  • February 26, 2016 at 2:42 pm
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    I am anxious to see what Obama gets in the deal to close Guantanamo. We all know he’s a lousy negotiator. What do you all think?

  • February 26, 2016 at 11:38 am
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    Prohibition did not forbid the consumption of alcohol in the U.S. The Eighteenth Amendment made illegal the transportation, manufacture, and sale of intoxicating liquor.

  • February 25, 2016 at 9:03 pm
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    Au contraire,
    The fact that the U.S. government under a succession of 10 or more U.S. presidents of both parties has opted to continue the embargo specifically in order to crush Cuba’s alternative to the empires mandate of free enterprise capitalism in the world speaks to the fear amongst capitalists of even a similarly totalitarian economic form with more social benefits than under free enterprise capitalist Third World countries .
    The thought of a democratic economic system ( socialism ) developing anywhere in the world absolutely scares the bejesus out of them and that fear is what has always driven U.S. imperialism’s actions worldwide.

  • February 25, 2016 at 7:31 pm
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    True indeed and well done. I come from a world where in my mind, man has just started to make some good decisions to make the world better. Prior, we had slavery, extermination, and detonating the nuclear bomb. Now we’re in the year 2016 and Castro is still revered in Cuba, brainwashed or not, so the goal is to have some faith that this trip will benefit the Cuban people. That’s the bottom line, Cuban citizens.

  • February 25, 2016 at 5:53 pm
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    Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio may still be staunch opponents of the rapprochement, but Donald Trump stands by Obama on Cuba. In any case, if non-Hispanic Floridians scoff at Rubio and Cruz’s outcry over Obama visiting Cuba, then Rubio and Cruz will be doomed electorally (not to mention that Ted cruz was born in Canada and therefore ineligible to run for president under the Constitution).

  • February 25, 2016 at 5:38 pm
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    A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. Time to settle the feud and let Cuba go it’s on way. No one can seirously consider the Cuba model a threat.

  • February 25, 2016 at 11:14 am
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    President Obama faces “crossfire” every day of his administration. His Cuban policy is no different than his Asian Trade policy, Iran-nuclear agreement, Syrian cease-fire and everything else on his agenda. That is the nature of democracy. Raul Castro, on the other hand, is a dictator. There will be no Letter to the Editors of Granma opposing his decisions. There is no Tea Party equivalent in the National Assembly vowing to block his proposals. Fernando attempts to paint a form of moral equivalency between the actions of the two leaders. There is no such beast. Raul is being forced to swallow his words and those of his big brother spoken over the last 57 years railing against the US because he is desperate and out of options. If Russia or China stepped up to pull his ass out of the fire, he would thrust his middle finger at Washington so fast, his old neck would snap. President Obama, on the other hand, is seeking to build his legacy. Opening the door to Cuba won’t help the US economy but it may smooth out some rough spots in Latin America. As a result, Obama’s morality play in Cuba is both doing the right thing and getting historical credit for doing it. Fernando appears to overestimate Cuba’s importance to the US.

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