HAVANA TIMES — Obama should be grateful for Cuba’s hospitality: no journalist asked him any difficult questions and no one engaged him on the subject of the embargo, the Guantanamo Naval Base, the prisoners kept there without trial, financing given the island’s opposition or the propaganda spread by Marti Radio and TV.
However, no sooner had the US president left Havana’s Gran Teatro, the interviews began [in the official Cuban media] with several people who attended, the same ones [with a pro-government line] who had, incidentally, taken part in the confrontations during the Summit of the Americas in Panama in April 2015.
In the days that followed, dozens of articles and TV and radio reports criticizing Obama began to appear. It was a tardy attempt at countering the effect his visit had on Cubans, a response that has led to mockery among the population.
In defense of my colleagues, I should say that, clearly, they were not the ones who designed such a “brilliant” strategy. It was those who do this all the time and, to be sure, they were there, in person, controlling Cuban journalists during Obama’s visit.
Then, we began to see far more serious opinions from intellectuals, politicians and even religious authorities. From different perspectives, the nation began to process Obama’s replies and the new stage on which everyone will have to meet in the future.
Ambrosio Fornet acknowledges we “find ourselves before a new challenge, which we ourselves sensibly contributed to, and we can’t refuse to confront it now. Are we in a position to do so successfully? Will we be able to affirm our cultural identity with the same firmness with which we affirmed our sovereignty throughout these years?
Most questioned Obama’s attempt to let bygones be bygones. Cardinal Jaime Ortega is willing to forgive but refuses to forget. “You don’t turn the page and you don’t put history behind you, because history is necessary and history is the essence of life,” he stated.
Fidel Castro asks whether we should also forget “those who died in mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, a commercial airliner full of passengers blown up mid-flight, mercenary invasions and numerous acts of violence and aggression.”
The former leader, however, concludes with a chilling phrase: “We don’t need anything from the empire.” Not one Cuban I’ve spoken with shares this idea, on the contrary, many believe Cuba does need the United States badly.
Cuba did need US trade when the blockade forced it to change its entire industrial infrastructure and adopt less advanced technologies, when it was left without means of transportation due to a lack of spare pieces and even today, when its financial transactions are persecuted throughout the world.
Cuba needs good relations with the United States because the latter opens all of the worlds doors for it, as was clearly demonstrated on December 17, 2014, when it was granted access to new credit, made new investment offers and saw a rise in tourism.
Cuba needs this and this is no abstract proposal, because, those who need it are the pensioner who receives US $10 a month and the teacher who can’t make ends meet during the month. The workers whose wages cover a mere 46% of the basic needs of their families also need it.
Cuba’s merit has been precisely the ability to overcome such difficulties without yielding to blackmail or force. When the United States acknowledges its failure, however, to remain confrontational is not likely to meet with the support of most Cubans.
We have to recognize that the Cuban leadership has known when and how to sit down at the negotiations table. They’ve done so without giving up sovereignty, getting back the imprisoned agents (Cuban Five), not talking about internal policy and conversing on an equal footing with the most powerful nation in the world. What more could they ask for?
The value of Raul Castro and his staff consists in having confidence in the nation’s ability to manage the risks involved in a rapprochement with the United States. He has faith, as Fornet says, “in our conviction that continuing to be who we are is worthwhile.”
It’s true Washington is preparing a new strategy that consists in subtler, less arrogant relations, a strategy one could even call charming. But, in order to implement it with a modicum of coherence, it has to loosen the knots around Cuba’s economy.
The aim now is to manage to make this breathing space reach the dinner tables of Cubans, and, to achieve this, internal changes must continue to advance – not the changes the United States may aspire to, but those approved by different assemblies several years ago, of which only an infinitesimal part has been applied.