Post-Presidential Reconciliation (Like a Symphony)

Dariela Aquique

Jimmy Carter at a Havana press conference at the end of his second visit to Cuba in March 2011. Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Like any Cuban of my generation, I’m astonished in the face of the changes occurring in the political terrain.   It all reminds me of the saying “time changes everything.”

I read Fidel’s reflections (“The Disaster in Japan and the Visit of a Friend” published March 30, 2011).  In it he said, “Today I had the pleasure of greeting Jimmy Carter, who was president of the United States between 1977 and 1981, and who was the only one, in my opinion, with enough calm and courage to approach the issue of relations between his country and Cuba.”

ADAGIO

What so many Cubans would have given to have heard in the 1980s something as encouraging as the possibility of dialogue between the presidents of Cuba and the USA.  The tensions back then and the intransigencies of the two systems have cost many tears and much separation.

Now the Commandant tells us:

“Carter did what he could to reduce international tensions and to promote the creation of the Cuban and United States Interests Offices.  His administration was the only one that took steps to relax the criminal blockade imposed on our people.  The circumstances certainly were not favorable in our complex world.  The existence of a truly free and sovereign country in our hemisphere didn’t reconcile with the ideas of the extreme fascist right wing in the United States, who acted in a way to undermine the aims of President Carter, who was deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize.  No one gave it to him gratuitously.”

ALLEGRO

If Fidel would have assumed such an intelligent and flexible analysis in the past, I believe we would have spared ourselves from harboring so much hate and sowing so much confusion.  I was in elementary school and my first year of junior high school during the Carter administration, but I clearly remember how each newspaper, magazine or bulletin of the epoch was full of caricatures of the American president with texts ridiculing him.

Now I wonder: if there was really a sense that this former enemy, now a friend, was no more than prisoner of his circumstances, why was there such an orchestrated attack against him?

If Jimmy Carter did what he could to reduce tensions, why were posters handed out in demonstrations and marches with phrases such as “Carter, you son of a b…., remember the Bay of Pigs”?

AFFRETANDO

We have fed hostilities for more than half a century, back and forth and from here to there, only to end up making exemptions of responsibilities and trying to mend what was said and, what’s worse still, things that were done.

It’s true that Carter was a quite coherent statesman.  In Latin America, his administration not only took the edge off of Cuba-US conflicts but also negotiated the Torrijos-Carter accords whereby Panama would gradually exercise control of the entire isthmus.

But around that time (1979) other facts were perceived by our people through our mass media and communicated by our leaders.  These included statements pointing to: “manifestations by the US government in its extremely hostile and aggressive campaign against the Nicaraguan revolution.  The United States doesn’t hesitate in dedicating billions of dollars to unleash a dirty war against Nicaragua in the economic, political and military arenas, which has its greatest expression in the organizing, training and financing of internal counter-revolutionary groups.”*

Inevitably politics depends on the mirror with which one looks at themself as well as the moment and one’s attitude; one cannot attribute to the former US president acts of a punitive character committed against other non-compliant countries.  Now he is making part of his political pacifist position the advocating of reconciliation between peoples.  This clearly will validate his having been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize (2002) the year he visited Cuba for the first time.

Many are of the opinion that his term in office was marked by important successes in foreign policy, such as the treaties on the Panama Canal, the Camp David peace accords, the SALT II treaty with the USSR and the establishment of diplomat relations with the People’s Republic of China.  In domestic politics, his administration created the departments of energy and education, and he strengthened legislation on environmental protection – actions that could be described as those of a good leader.

For others he was no more than the not very well-known Democratic candidate who finally ended up the winner in the November 2, 1976 elections with 50.1 percent of the votes (Ford obtained 48 percent).  In this way he became the first candidate from the “deep south” to be elected president since 1848.

Speaking about his overseas actions, he asserted: “The United States should have demonstrated, as much through its words as its actions, that it understood and supported the aspirations of the Third World.  Therefore in light of the future, its government would ensure justice and human rights.  In relation to the Soviet Union, I considered it more useful to act with wisdom, sensitivity and ethics…”

Thus he sought to adopt a new posture, shifting from military to ideological competition, undermining their power without needing to squander his resources supporting dictators and corrupt right wing governments…

There are those who described his mandate as disastrous and inoperative, while marked by high rates of unemployment.  I cannot join one side or the other, as I’m far from being fully aware of the intrigues of US administrations.

AGITATO

Years ago when I was a little girl, I would see the cartoons of that president where he was presented as the “enemy.”

Today, as an adult, I read a review that praises him and calls him a “friend.”

I believe that he was neither.  It’s part of the role that he has represented since he left the White House and has devoted himself to mediating international conflicts and putting his prestige at the service of humanitarian causes.

I wanted to get a sense of the public’s sentiment with respect to this, so I talked to five people for their opinions:

Yeneisi, 24:

In my opinion there are two principal points of view in looking at the meeting between Fidel Castro and ex-president Jimmy Carter during his visit to our country. Firstly, to me it seems like a lack of respect for Carter, given the fact that after having made so many pejorative references regarding him, his form of government and the way in which the politics of his country were carried out toward the rest of the world and toward our nation during his presidential term, now we’re describing him as a friend.  On the other hand, I think it’s magnificent the idea that there could be the beginning of a new era between the US and Cuba in the not too distant future.  However, since politics is so dirty, who knows if this visit doesn’t have second or third intentions…

Wilfredo, 52:

I find the visit by Carter magnificent, seeing his attitude toward Cuba and that we’re overcoming the bitterness and differences between the systems.  Carter wasn’t a bad president, in my opinion.  He created the Interests Section Office for immigration agreements between the two countries.  At that time he did what he could.  People over there depend on the Senate and groups that finance campaigns, the people who have money.  I believe that our Commandant called him a friend because the man has good intentions, although in the past he was an opponent.  That’s how life and politics are.

Jose Antonio, 48:

That shows a lot of nerve.  Don’t ask me anything about that!

Marta, 39:

To me I think it’s very good that Jimmy Carter is visiting Cuba.  Also, this is his second visit to the country, and I believe that it was good to recognize — although it was done indirectly — the error that was committed against him.  If the man came for a second time to reinforce his relationships with our government it’s because he has good intentions and he’s not afraid of his own government’s political pressures…

Miguel Angel, 27:

That is a lack of respect, respect that they themselves are lacking; because after so many years of ranting and raving about one thing or the other and vice versa, to now come and say “we’re sorry for everything we said or did in the past, so starting now let’s be friends,” it’s something I can’t stand.  I’m indignant over the fact that they’re underestimating my intelligence…

PATHETICO

I admit that I like this stage of post-presidential reconciliation.  What stirs my insight is the final part of Fidel’s notes:

“Will he be able to honor the purpose of a system that generates presidents like Nixon, Reagan and W.  Bush with growing frequency and increasingly with more destructive power and less respect for the sovereignty of peoples?”

How would it be if tomorrow one of these ex-presidents spoke out in favor of Cuba and said they would no longer respond to extreme political pressures?

Are we unperceptively witnessing the opening of a stage of post-presidential reconciliation?

It’s likely, if in the end…time changes everything.

—–

* Text taken from a speech by Fidel Castro of this epoch transcribed in a text book.

Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.


One thought on “Post-Presidential Reconciliation (Like a Symphony)

  • April 27, 2011 at 11:44 am
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    Did you see the PBS special aired last night on “Blacks in Cuba” ? Henry Lewis Gates, Jr was given unusual access to Afro-Cuban culture and academics. He has a personal relationship with President Obama. He concluded his program with the suggestion that perhaps the next Cuban revolution would be in race relations.
    This is the second PBS program in a month focused on Cuba; the other was a nature program on biodiversity and environmental conservation. I would like to think that official attitudes on both sides of the Florida Straits are changing.

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