HAVANA TIMES — The US president didn’t arrive in Cuba with convincing arguments but to aim straight at the hearts of Cubans. Without a doubt, his aim was good. He was capable of earning widespread sympathy among the population, even before setting foot on the island.
Having had the White House get in touch with Cuban sit-com character Panfilo so that he could converse with the US president was, without a doubt, brilliant. With this simple gesture, Obama demonstrated that he and his team know the island’s reality in depth.
The Twitter message where he addressed the island with a “que bola” (“what’s up”), using Cuba’s popular and youthful lingo, was a second step towards this emotional rapprochement. To create empathy, one must stand at the same level as the other, become their equal.
He continued to project the image of a simple, unassuming man when he stepped off the plane with his wife, two girls and even his mother-in-law. The detail may appear superficial for those who are unaware of how important family is to Cubans.
During his first address, he appeased nationalistic sentiments saying the future of Cubans ought to be in the hands of Cubans alone. This is a declaration of principles that, in theory, would put an end to the United States’ self-proclaimed right to intervene in the island’s internal affairs.
It’s also true he met with a forgiving press – his own and Cuba’s – as no journalist thought to ask whether he’d stop financing Radio and TV Marti and dissident groups, which he supplies with tens of millions of dollars every year.
Obama praised the work of Cuban medical doctors abroad and offered to enter into bilateral health cooperation projects with the island. No one thought to ask him why he maintained the express visa program, created to tempt Cuban physicians to leave their positions and immigrate to the United States.
Perhaps it’s because the sympathy he awakened did not appeal so much to the intelligence of those in the auditorium and aimed rather at their emotions. I’m certain the country’s ego skyrocketed when the president of the world’s most powerful nation said, in Spanish, “Cubans can build something from thin air.”
Obama mentioned a number of self-employed persons by name and acknowledged their community work. He quoted Jose Marti and put Teofilo Stevensson on a par with Muhammad Ali. His one mistake, perhaps, was to mention only émigré artists when he spoke about Cuban music.
He did not underestimate the political maturity of his listeners by trying to sell them the American Dream. On the contrary, he acknowledged the race-related problems and the extreme concentration of wealth in his country, while defending US democracy as a tool capable of improving society.
He made no mention of dissident groups, always accused of being “paid lackeys of the empire.” However, he did deposit his hopes in the transformative capacity of individual initiative, small businesspeople and members of cooperatives, who are accepted by the general population.
He was very much on mark when he voiced the demands of common Cubans. “It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba. A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba. Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn. The Internet should be available across the island,” he said.
He went in for the kill when he spoke of the “Cuban dream,” suggesting that these fledgling entrepreneurs can make of Cuba what émigrés made of Florida, as though being a state of the world’s most powerful nation hadn’t had a say in that.
We could take apart Obama’s visit and speeches in Cuba, but the fact of the matter is that his message reached Cubans. The only negative remarks I heard were those voiced on national television, which does not seem to tire of creating parallel realities.
The new stage of the bilateral conflict is less violent, but the United States’ advantage is enormous. They have an army of public relations, communication, image and marketing experts to advise their politicians, who have immense experience in debate processes and know how to handle the press.
The challenge facing the Cuban government is gigantic and it involves a change in mentality, putting aside old prejudices that prevent it from thoroughly exploring the tools used in today’s world to get a political message across and to do politics in general.