HAVANA TIMES, April 24 — Last summer, I heard a song playing while on the beach. I don’t know what group it was by, but there was one line where they sang about “…a black man in the White House.” The lyrics were referring to the ascent of Barack Obama into the presidency of the United States of America, a country historically racist and where the sons and daughters of Africa arrived as slaves.
I remembered when I watched his victory on TV here, I was filled with expectations: The war in Iraq would be ended, the prison at the Guantanamo naval base would be closed, and dialogue would begin between the governments of my country and the United States, which in turn would lead to the lifting of the economic blockade and the normalization of relations between the two countries.
I expected a change because Obama had promised in his campaign to be the “President of Change.” Eight months later, when hearing the song, I thought that about all those things I had expected and I realized the sole thing that had changed was the calendar.
Were the promises of Obama false? I don’t know; and I don’t know if at this point it matters. I want to believe that he really did have the intention of doing everything he said he would. The Cuban press and television have followed his struggle to reform the health care system in his country and to ensure medical insurance to millions of his fellow citizens who don’t possess it – there in the richest country in the world. So yes, I still want to believe in Barack Obama.
But the song and the enthusiasm —which I shared with the American people, especially that of US African-Americans— only demonstrate our naiveté when thinking that a change in the color in the US presidential office would result in radical change in that country’s domestic and foreign policy. We thought it was enough to give a splash of black paint to the White House for the world to be better, more just; thinking this was truly possible.
The Hispanic community expected improvements, especially in the situations of those who are living illegally in the United States. An article published here in the Granma newspaper spoke of the possibility of Obama freeing an activist who had struggled for the rights of the Native American community in the United States. He has been imprisoned for decades for a crime that —as has been demonstrated— he didn’t commit. The author of the article based this hope on the fact that Obama also belongs to a ethnic minority that is discriminated against in that country.
We haven´t come to understand that even though power dresses in black, the power relations remain. We can now see that Barack Obama is simply the president of the most powerful country in the world, and that in that country, those who in fact have the most power are not the president.
Barack Obama won’t leave a historic legacy of the “President of Change.” He will go down as being the first black president of the United States, and I think that really the sole winner has been the power of that nation; the US that has been able to make many people believe that it is the land of true democracy, where a Black person too can be nominated for the presidency, win the election and become president.
I remember when I was little, people here talked about Jesse Jackson, another US African-American who ran for president in that country to change things. That seemed naive, though he was the Black person who had gone the furthest prior to Obama in terms of political aspirations.
However, now with Obama as president, it seemed like anything could be accomplished. Jesse Jackson himself, captured by the TV cameras after Obama’s victory, seemed thrilled. He spoke as if this were really a victory for the country’s entire African-American community and for all those who were poor and suffered discrimination. Right, the US has a great system, some said.
Elections on Sunday in Cuba
Here in my country, on the eve of Cubans turning out to vote in the April 25 elections, I can feel pity for people in the US who went to the polls with the hope that their vote could change things in their country. How naive.
I’m lucky that the leaders of my country have not made any false promises to win my vote to maintain their positions in power. The fact is they don’t depend on my vote to stay in the power. The fact is that I won’t be voting for the president of my country or any other national office when I exercise my right to vote on Sunday. Voting is a right that is guaranteed to me in my country; it is such a solid guarantee that if for some reason I forgot to turn show up at the polls, someone will come to my house looking for me so that I cast my ballot.
This Sunday’s elections will be carried out to choose delegates to the Municipal Assemblies of Popular Power. Recently, newspaper and television journalist have advised people that they should vote only for one candidate in this election; this guidance was necessary because of cases in which some people voted for more than one or all of the people nominated, which resulted in their ballots being disqualified.
It seems that after so many years hearing the slogan “All are worthy, vote for them” and “The united vote,” people went and mechanically checked all the blanks. The newspaper clarified that in elections for delegates at the provincial and national level voters will in fact be able to vote for several or all of those people nominated.
So that´s how far our participation in elections goes. Although right now I’m not sure, because yesterday I spoke with someone who assured me that we were only going to vote for delegates to the Municipal Assembly. What we all know for sure is that we don’t elect the president.
The country’s president will be elected in a meeting of the Council of State —another body that is not chosen by us— or by the National Assembly of Popular Power – which is not elected by us either.
We will vote for the candidate who we see as having the best chance of solving our problems when they’re presented —problems like finding construction supplies to fix the roof or a wall, or addressing the irregular distribution of food rations— because we always take the legal route before convincing ourselves that there’s no other remedy before resorting to illegal black-market means.
We won’t be able to ask about the dual currency, freedom of the press, low wages (in domestic currency) or high prices (in CUCs)… Those aren’t issues I’ll be able to raise with the elected delegate.
Many people speculate, inside and outside of Cuba, about the succession of the presidency in this country (the next national elections are scheduled for late 2012). Will our current leader be reaffirmed? Will comrade Ramiro Valdes assume the presidency? Meanwhile, our role is to observe as simple spectators —spectators who will suffer the consequences of these outcomes— and wait to find out who will be the president that they elect for us this time.