Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES — President Obama’s speech had a profound impact on the Cuban people. It was a powerful act of demystification. We had spent decades seeing US presidents only as part of bad news and suddenly seeing one, in the flesh, here in Cuba, telling us he was our friend, was an unforgettable experience.
It was perfect, but the most sensational experience was his meeting with entrepreneurs and the self-employed. His words to them were as powerful as his already classic speeches. Every phrase, every idea, every gesture was correct. The message was clear and encouraging.
At home, as in nearly all others, we followed Obama closely. My family is a mixed lot, politically speaking, though not that much. My father and my aunt are radical communists and the rest oscillate between moderate socialism and critical revolutionaries. It was almost impossible to listen to Obama, with the constant comments of approval in response to his precise and clear words.
No sooner had he finished speaking than they cut to the television studio set up to follow the events of the day, with two hosts. Some political analysts were on standby, ready to comment on Obama’s words. It was unbelievable. Everything that Obama had said and seemed so on the nose meant the opposite to them.
They used every imaginable, manipulative argument to discredit him. A young and talented journalist, Cristina Escobar, which spares no effort to position herself as the spearhead of a journalism committed to the system, stood out in this. Of course, this technique works and has been proven successful throughout the decades. Many people were left confused and they’ve re-broadcasted the criticism [not the speech] so much that no few people have been persuaded.
The speech was described as meddling in the internal affairs of Cuba only because Obama said that democracy is the way to overcome problems in any society.
Despite his explanations, despite acknowledging Cuba’s achievements and the United States’ mistakes, despite using his own life as an example, despite suggesting that Cubans draw ideas from other countries, not his own (owing to the mistrust that remains), despite all this they said he was meddling in Cuba’s internal affairs and had double standards.
In a few minutes’ time, my own family had changed its opinion. My father became defensive and began to quote Che Guevara, who said “one shouldn’t make the slightest concession to imperialism.” He can’t let go of such a mindset, he was trained to think this way. My aunt supported him. My mother continued to praise Obama, but she was already starting to feel she had gotten carried away some. My sisters and I continued to refuse to be influenced by the brainwashers.
Since that day, the Cuban media has maintained the same attitude. The more ethical journalists speak only of the positive aspects of the speech, without refuting the arguments of those who impel a campaign of misinformation and manipulation. It’s the power of the media at work and we all know it’s a force to be reckoned with.
Despite this, Obama had a deep impact on people. Not everyone can be deceived easily. Yesterday, I got on a horse-drawn carriage and Obama’s visit immediately came up in conversation. The driver said: “that blonde reporter [referring to Cristina] is really getting on my nerves. She’s torn apart everything Obama said. The skinny fellow who talks about prices and markets, I like him, but this woman is a brownnose.”
A passenger, who was apparently a successful self-employed person, said: “the black fellow gave a good speech, but no one can get to these people. They’ve been suckling at the teat for 50 years and they’re afraid of losing it.”
A young woman who I’ve seen before, for she used to be a nurse and now she sells pork at a market, said: “the blockade that we care about is the internal one; the other blockade only affects them in their businesses. The thing that holds me back and screws me over is the State itself.”
A rather vulgar gentleman said: “the one who looked scared was Diaz Canel. He didn’t even say a word to Obama, because, if what Obama suggests comes to pass, it’s goodbye to the position these people want to give him. This guy didn’t do a single good thing in this province, so, what can we expect him to do in charge of the entire country?”
I listened to all those comments analytically and smiled. People are waking up, it’s no longer easy to keep everyone deceived.
A famous quote from a US politician who Fidel Castro used to mention a lot, perhaps it was Lincoln, came to mind. I’m not sure now and I have no way of verifying this, so you’ll have to excuse me. It is something to the effect that you can deceive all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but not all the people all the time. It’s not an exact quote, but that’s the idea, and I think it fits what’s going on here in Cuba well.
The concrete repercussions of Obama’s visit remain to be seen. However, there is no doubt it will give great impetus, not only to the policy of rapprochement he’s implemented, but also to change in Cuba.
He laid a number of issues that are taboo on the table. He opened a discussion at the street level. He put the ball on the government’s side of the court ad helped dissident and alternative voices be heard.
The legacy is positive. Fear has been broken and secrecy ended. A US president has come to visit us, spoken to our people on an equal footing and claims to be our friend. This heralds better times ahead.
Cover photo: John Shaw