Americas Summit: View from Cuba

By Alfredo Prieto*

5th Summit of the Americas, photo: Presidency of Ecuador
5th Summit of the Americas, photo: Presidency of Ecuador

HAVANA TIMES, April 19 — In the run-up to the Fifth Summit of the Americas, from Mexican soil and through CNN, US President Barack Obama sent a message to the Cuban government. He spoke almost in unison with his secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, who voiced the same tone during her trip to neighboring Haiti.

Later, the White House spokesperson reiterated what both pointed out were actions incumbent on Cuba if it wants dialogue with the giant to the north: it must grant freedom to the island’s political prisoners and to its press.

Prior to the Summit, the Obama administration announced a series of Cuba-related reforms, such as lifting restrictions on remittances and trips by Cuban-Americans, as well as proposals on information and communications—from cell phone services to satellite TV signals.

Prosperity and security were two of the nodal points of Obama’s address. Photo: Caridad

The good faith of these efforts can be measured through both the intentions and the outcomes. But here, it doesn’t take a political science graduate to recognize two qualities.

The first is that the notion of “the enemy” has surprising intransigence in US political imagery. The second—borrowing from Clausewitz—concerns the idea of politics being the continuation of war through other means. In this instance, there is growing consensus across the political spectrum that the strategy of force and coercion has not achieved its ultimate objective: to undo a régime whose nature is considered intrinsically perverse and that, consequently, should be “changed.”

This perspective is in line with the most orthodox principles of Anglo-American pragmatism. That view was always there, but now it is intensified, as if using a magnifying glass to focus sunlight.

This is because Obama’s measures have gone quite a bit further than those of the Clinton administration, which centered on its “People-to-People” policy. What unifies them is the narrowness of the sunbeam, not its horizontality. We should keep in mind, though, that they always proceed by not admitting anything as it is, but instead talk about how things should be.

Double Standard Isn’t on the Table

I can’t see the forest from the woods. photo: Caridad

One of the implied problems is that the US’ famous double standard continues to raise its ugly head. It is clear, for example, that in its relations with the Saudis, the United States will never ask them to dispense with their form of government.

Washington will never make it imperative that they abandon Wahhabism, one of the expressions of Islamic fundamentalism adopted as the official State religion. Nor do they insist that Saudi women be allowed to exercise the right to vote, one of the defining components of democracy and civil rights. There is nothing original in saying that the explanation can be summarized in three key words: interests, oil and allies.

With Cuba, however, it’s different. The hand of Obama, gesturing with “critical and constructive commitment,” evidences the “Give me a sign” syndrome (to borrow from a popular Mexican musician of my youth). This means insisting on domestic reforms in Cuba that—as in all cases—are strictly the affairs of the people of any country. The old mole of asymmetry continues floating in the middle of the Florida Strait. This seems to be imprinted in the mindsets of all US politicians, be they hawks or doves.

At the Summit, prosperity and security were two of the nodal points of Obama’s address, but the issue of Cuba emerged as much or more than was expected, despite its not being officially included on the agenda.

 Cuba’s immense green, photo: Caridad
Cuba’s immense green, photo: Caridad

Once again, the northerner experienced what it feels like to be in the minority, but this time not on Chicago’s South Side. This time he was in the other South, among a group of thirty-three other presidents where he was the only one who spoke standard American English. (The same situation had occurred with the previous US leader, but now it’s different).

In addition, Obama was the only leader who came with such historical baggage, a legacy and policies broadly rejected from the middle to the far south of the continent, and even outside of it. The leaders used words like “anachronism,” “lifting of the blockade” and “overcoming bi-polar logic.”

This time the leaders came from such spheres as social movements, indigenous communities, the ranks of enlisted soldiers, Liberation Theology, anti-neoliberal economic schools of thought and from the left press.

In the conference’s clamor, the US President said: “I do believe that we can move U.S.-Cuban relations in a new direction (…) The United States seeks a new beginning with Cuba.” I know there is a longer journey that must be traveled in overcoming decades of mistrust, but there are critical steps we can take toward a new day.”

To some, this was a response to proposals offered by Raul Castro during his recent trip to Venezuela for the ALBA Summit. “Dinner is served,” Walt Whitman once wrote. Meanwhile, I have to admit, I’ve never heard José Marti and his concept of the second independence ringing in my ears like they are now.

*Alfredo Prieto, Cuban Essayist and editor. He resides in Havana.

7 thoughts on “Americas Summit: View from Cuba

  • “Barry” Obama is just another imperial U.S. president — and already a war criminal. If he doesn’t bomb your island during his presidency, consider yourselves lucky.
    End of story.

    LOL this will nto happen because if it does EVERY LATIN BORN PERSON WILL MAKE SURE HE IS NEVER ABLE TO GO ANYWHERE..Yes, all he is ,is an amerikkkn pres without hutzbah

  • “Barry” Obama is just another imperial U.S. president — and already a war criminal. If he doesn’t bomb your island during his presidency, consider yourselves lucky.
    End of story.

  • Some interesting thoughts here: both Alfredo Prieto’s commentary and Milagros Villamil’s response. In Voltaire’s “Candide,” Dr. Pangloss often states “This is the best of all possible worlds,” and many uncritical Obama supporters still think this way, that there are certain limits their leader cannot “realistically” or pragmatically transgress (i.e. ending the embargo, supporting a single-payer health care system, NOT writing blank cheques to the major investment banks who brought on the financial cataclysm, etc.), yet this is exactly what is called for, especially as our empire is now facing bankruptcy. Obama, I am sure, considers himself a political pragmatists (just as, before him, F.D.R.). The latter, however, took more chances (and hence, reaped the benefits, both then, and in how he was viewed historically). For example, F.D. R. appointed first rate minds to advise him on economic and social policies (Was this the result of his intelligent and compassionate wife, Elinor?), whereas Obama has appointed only those who operate within the Wall Street system which caused our calamity. Ditto Obama’s tardiness in winding down the Iraq fiasco, or in failing to foresee the catastrophe which awaits a further escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Once again, in part due to his inability to appoint new military and diplomatic advisors who are not beholding to the Military-Industrial complex.) Hence, Alfredo Prieto is perceptive in focusing upon the double standard practiced by my country in requiring Cuba to change its system while doing nothing of the like for Saudi Arabia (or our client state of Egypt, for that matter). Along with Latin America, the Islamic World also recognizes, and rejects, this double standard.
    Will Obama be able to transcend his typical Chicago political style? In other words, will he be able to grow from a politician into a statesman? I hope so–but unlike so many of his uncritical fans (e.g. the breathless directives which clog my e-mail accounts on a daily basis) I have my doubts.

  • Alfredo, there is actually less of a double standard than you think.

    The USA may be guilty of many things but ignoring Saudi human rights abuses is not one of them.

    Here’s a short excerpt from the most recent US State Department report on human rights in Saudi Arabia:
    “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a monarchy ruled by the Al-Saud family. The population is 28.2 million, including 5.8 million foreigners. Since 2005, King Abdullah bin Abd Al Aziz Al-Saud has ruled under the title Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, a reference to his responsibility for Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. The government bases its legitimacy on its interpretation of Shari’a (Islamic law) and the 1992 Basic Law. The Basic Law sets out the system of governance, rights of citizens, and powers and duties of the government. The law also provides that the Koran and the Traditions (Sunna) of the Prophet Muhammad serve as the country’s constitution. In 2005 the country held male only elections on a nonparty basis for half the members of municipal councils, the first elections for any government position since 1963. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

    During the year the following significant human rights problems were reported: no right to change the government peacefully; beatings; judicially sanctioned corporal punishment; impunity, particularly on the part of the religious police; denial of public trials and lack of due process in the judicial system; political prisoners; incommunicado detention; restrictions on civil liberties such as freedoms of speech (including the Internet), assembly, association, movement, and severe restrictions on religious freedom; corruption; and lack of government transparency. Violence against women and discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, sect, and ethnicity were common. The sponsorship system limited the rights of foreign workers and remained a severe problem.”

    The entire State Department report on Saudi Arabia is available here:

    If you had said that human rights abuses and lack of political freedoms have not prevented Saudi Arabia (or for that matter China) from having normal diplomatic and commercial relations with the United States, I would agree with you. But that’s a different issue than alleging a double standard.

  • It’s all so simple, Barack.

    Acknowledge those political prisoners that are your creatures working under CIA funding and direction and Cuba will return them to you forthwith.

  • Alfredo Prieto, I read your article with interest.

    In the US the the majority in theRepublican Party thinks everything President Obama does and says is wrong.
    In the Democratic Party the majority think he is doing a great job.

    All I know is I hope that President Obama sees to it that the US Embargo of Cuba is rescinded in the near future.

    Robert Cowdery

  • Great Article Senor Prieto:

    To all who read. please forgive any typos

    As a newbie here, please allow me to digress for a moment, and please do not think that i in my own ignorance that disagree with your message here..i am able to read between lines.

    i am an AfroCuban exile a former practicing atty who is not a fan or supporter of the current president of the US, and for this reason i would like to digress and discuss the closed post > and other points
    Chavez to Obama:
    Read Galeano. However , i am not a republican either

    i am in Trinidad as an observer, who accompanied my son who is a journalist. We came here for three reasons, to hear and watch and to visit family members who live here as well. (Cubans) So my personal choices for being here go beyond watching the fake hugs and kind words given by Obama to Pres Chavez.
    However, my family could have heard my shouts of joy all the way to Matanzas, when Pres Chavez ,gave Pres Obama, the book by Galeano. Why you may ask?

    I am as i have said above an AfroCuban, who has both an excellent command of both my native tongue and the one forced upon me as a young teen, English.
    I speak without hardly an accent, and until people hear me divert and speak Spanish they believe that i am an African American.

    Having said this, i am also a part of the urban community in a state which heralded Obama to the presidency, yet this same community and many like it all over the US has been disrespected in my opinion by Obama and for this he can get no respect from me or others of my ilk.. For years even here in Trin one can see the left over psychological damage done to this island in terms of what people discuss when they speak of the BULLY USA

    i know that his flowery words and attempt to dodge what he knows must be done is a thorn in the sides of many who supported him, whether they are the urban poor and elderly adults and children, the New Orleans destitute, the illiterate from West Va, the homeowners who have lost thier homes due to poor choices ot greedy loan officers and banks or the every day JOE THE PLUMBER, who is barely making ends meet at under 250k a year.?

    It is my belief that Obama, has no backbone , very little humility and in my opinion he has never been one who would make in the urban community had it not been because of others who came before him.
    He calls his own mother an AVERAGE WHITE WOMAN..and has yet to explain why (if this is true )he will not attend the conferance on racism? Once again he is kowtowing to the community which bolted him to office. These same people are some of the ones who still dictate which services which community will recieve and how high they must jump to get them.
    Racism is and will always be here ,it is mans need to be superior over others and rocket science is not needed to figure this out. The US was built upon the principles of hate and fear, and for Obama not to address this, tells many that he is afraid as well.

    Now, am i angry? Heck yes~! and the reason is because Pres Obama is bringing the same ..out of the past fix it solutions as all other pres… He made a point of saying that the US could not be the blame for all that has transpired in Cuba?
    Yet, i say that yes we Cuba, blame the US and its political cohorts for all of the drama going on in Cuba now. Cuba has never harrassed or made any attempts to undermine the soverignty of any fellow nations, yet we have been used to boost the economy of former gangsters and those like them for yrs.
    This is coupled with the fact that had Obama been genuine like Chavez, Fidel or any sucessful leader, he would have lifted the antiquated Embargo as soon as he signed in as pres and without the upcoming strings. Then i know Pres Castro, may have responded with a likeminded gesture

    When Cuba puts the shackles on its citizenry no outsiders know the facts, there are many thugs in Cuba, of all races, ethicities, religions etc and Cuba has the right to lock them up. However, the US has five of our citizens on trumped up charges as a means to break Castro. Bush, was president when these Cubans were sentenced and it now the responsibility of the US Gov to correct this injustice ,not for Cuba to release any one they have imprisoned just as a tit 4 tat. Cuba, has been injured and we should accept no quarters,,accept no hostages because winners take all.

    Case in point;

    1. The Platt amendment

    2 The US support of the Batista regime

    3 The attempt by the US to colonize Cuba (as in Puerto Rico)

    4 Kennedy missile fiasco

    5 Embargo (50 yrs

    6 Helms Burton act

    The US not to blame?

    Obama has not done his homework and he would do to realize that Fidel Castro is a compassionate man who has character and ethics. He also would be wise to understand that he will not be dealing with just an 83 yr old revolutionary, but rather a man who is wise, highly willing /able to negotiate and more able to see between lines and lies than any leader ever.
    I know more avout Cuba than most think i do, i am also one who never tells anyone more than i want them to know and a woman who will never deny that change is needed in Mi Cuba.

    Suffice, that when change arrives without fanfare and cameras willing to reach out the, fist will open but when change comes and is wrapped in words and euphemisms then the fist stays closed and should.
    We as a Cuban people are in a sovereign nation and deserve more from the Obama Adm, it is not enough to simply make lofty speeches.

    and to use the words of my colleague Senor Prieto below>

    With Cuba, however, it’s different. The hand of Obama, gesturing with “critical and constructive commitment,” evidences the “Give me a sign” syndrome (to borrow from a popular Mexican musician of my youth). This means insisting on domestic reforms in Cuba that—as in all cases—are strictly the affairs of the people of any country. The old mole of asymmetry continues floating in the middle of the Florida Strait. This seems to be imprinted in the mindsets of all US politicians, be they hawks or doves.

    As they say in El barrio . talkin loud ain’t saying nuttin >habla much no dice nada

    Without a country

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