Raul Castro Upstaged by Barack Obama

Vicente Morin Aguado

General/President Raul Castro bids farewell to President Obama. Photo: Juan Pablo Carreras/ACN
General/President Raul Castro bids farewell to President Obama. Photo: Juan Pablo Carreras/ACN

HAVANA TIMES — President Obama pronounced on Tuesday a historical address on the same stage where Calvin Coolidge spoke 88 years ago. This time around, applause erupted in the theater at least 20 times during the 35-minute speech, even though the audience had been pre-selected by communist authorities. In Cuba, it is imperative that we carry out an analysis that offers an alternative to the repeated discourse of the official press.

Like the spectators in the theater, recently baptized as the “Alicia Alonso Theater,” the only press allowed into the premises was that of the Communist Party, and its immediate reaction is quite symptomatic: impotence and stupefaction are the adjectives that apply to it. After a new proposal was advanced, they turned to the arguments they have been repeating over the past fifty years:

“We speak out because of the abuses of the past, the blockade, the Guantanamo Naval Base, the plans to subvert the government, different concepts regarding human rights…”

Let us analyze, then, what the words spoken by the US president mean for us Cubans.

“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”

Obama definitively does away with that omnipresent enemy that every authoritarian power needs to maintain collective paralysis and to justify its actions. The government can no longer turn to the image of a besieged fortress as a means of doing politics.

“This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”

Barack Obama and Raul Castro at their joint press conference on March 21st. Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebate
Barack Obama and Raul Castro at their joint press conference on March 21st. Photo: Ismael Francisco/cubadebate

Cuba’s governing elite claims to fully represent the people and speaks on behalf of everyone. This way, their actions, whatever they may be, are justified. Their aim is to negotiate at the government level, and to internally control any individual initiative that may establish contacts with the outside world. The White House, however, insists on the importance of distinguishing between the government, on the one hand, and the people of Cuba in general. The president’s speech contains numerous allusions to the Cuban people:

“In a global economy powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people,” “Cubans can build anything out of thin air,” “I believe in the Cuban people.”

Obama offers a brief, incomplete but nonetheless valuable account of the historical ties that bind us. Evidently, he chose to speak of the positive things we share. The negative things have already been repeated and implanted into the minds of people, from the classroom to Fidel Castro’s speeches.

The climax came when he said, alluding to his conversations with Raul Castro: “I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.”

We must interpret the two meanings of this message: the era of threats has come to an end and there are no longer any arguments to continue to speak of Washington as public enemy number one. With respect to political opponents, the reforms must come, be developed and implemented by Cubans and should not result from direct US pressure.

The speech was not without criticisms of the prevailing system, considered a failure, as it was simply impossible to neglect mentioning a permanent commitment to human rights, which leave a lot to be desired in the country. Obama acknowledges Cuba’s commendable achievements in health and education, which are used opportunistically by the government when faced with criticisms over the repression of dissidents.

The quote taken from Marti’s The Golden Age, the bedside book of Cuban children, was opportune. There, Cuba’s national hero offers us a beautiful essay stating that “freedom is the right of every man to be honest, to think and speak without hypocrisy.”

“But I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.”

Barack Obama waves goodbye to Cuba. Photo; Juan Pablo Carreras/ACN
Barack Obama waves goodbye to Cuba. Photo; Juan Pablo Carreras/ACN

The entire address is a veiled allusion to the fact the country is not doing well, to the need to change, to head down new roads. One of the key paragraphs states, as Raul Castro frankly acknowledged, that “even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba.”

The source of these desired changes are identified as the self-employed sector. One of the interests behind the president’s visit was to counter the suspicions of the bureaucracy, stuck in the 80s, when so-called Real Socialism appeared invincible:

“Being self- employed is not about becoming more like America, it’s about being yourself.”

The illustrious visitor points out the difficulties involved in investing in Cuba, the need to respect the salaries of those hired by foreign companies and to make Internet access more widespread, underscoring its enormous importance in modern economies and as a means of achieving freedom.

Speaking to an audience beyond the 110,000 square kilometers of this Caribbean isle, the speech addresses the need for reconciliation between the two million compatriots at the other end of the Strait of Florida.

His words made me recall a revolutionary process that ended up using arguments that earned it the support of a majority disconcerted by Batista’s coup. I would like to close this analysis with the verdict pronounced in Havana, before Raul Castro, on March 22, 2016:

“The ideals that are the starting point for every revolution (…) Those ideals find their truest expression, I believe, in democracy.”

11 thoughts on “Raul Castro Upstaged by Barack Obama

  • Wrong Griffin. Just a little short of half the former residents of the DDR have positive opinions of their lives under that government.

  • Obama did not tell Cuba what they should do. He said the US has neither the desire nor the capacity to change Cuba. Instead, as President Obama pointed out, it is the Cuban people who will change Cuba.

    That is the message which so terrifies the Castro regime that they employ their legeons of police to spy on the people, beat up the Ladies in White and arrest hundreds of dissidents each week.

  • West Germans enjoyed the luxury of thinking Americans are arrogant because Americans spent billions in Marshall Plan aid reconstruction the German economy post WW2, and billions more in military aid defending them from the Soviet Union and their East Bloc puppet states.

    Today, those Germans who lived in the former East Germany are very pro-American, while the aging ’60s generation of liberal West Germans continue to cherish their stylish Anti-American attitudes.

    There is nothing more or less to this than the vanity and guilt of a people who benefitted the generosity of a stranger doing for them what they know in their hearts they should have done for themselves but lacked the courage to do so.

  • Reread what I wrote. I’m not referring to what you or anyone else in Germany thinks about US society (we don’t care). I write “we want the same things”. Cuban migration is not as passe as you would like to imagine. Some 10,000 Cubans continue to come in to the country via Mexico as a result of the closed border action taken by Nicaragua recently. By the way, a German thinks Americans are arrogant?

  • It was goodto see that President Obama broke the ice in the thawed relationship between the two countries but he did not apologize to the Cuban people for all the terrorist acts inflicted on the Cuban people in an attempt to destroy their Revolution. America was born out of a Revolution because they wanted to run their own affairs. The Cuban people, who were exploited, oppressed, dehumanized, degraded, lacked human rights under the Batista dictatorship, which was supported by the American Government wqnted to run their own affairs too. So, what makes the America Revolution different from Cuban Revolution? Obama should have taken time out to apologize to the Cuban people for the downing of their plane in 1976 and for having the terrorist perpetrator of this dastardly act, walking the streets of Miami and being hailed as a freedom fighter. Obama should have visited with the news that the embargo has been lifted totally. How do you want to make amends, how do you want to wipe the slate clean and start afresh when you still have your foot in my throat (the embargo) strangling me? Obama, as a former professor of Law should have apologized for the incarceration of the Cuban Five for all these years in their attempt to save their home land from terrorist attacks which were hatched in America. Sixteen years of unjust incarceration and the real terrorist untouched. Could President Raul Castro on his visit to America, demand that he meet with the Black Muslims, or the poor and homeless people on the streets? I am quite sure that, in all his travels on the island, he did not see nor did he hear about any homeless people on the streets. President Obama keep spewing about human rights! Why don’t he and America speak to Saudi Arabia, and all the other Middle East countries about their human rights record? In Cuba, women can drive cars, in Saudi Arabia they cannot. In Cuba, women are paid the same wages as men, Does this happen in America? Every Cuban can access free education and free medical attention; is this available to the average American? As I have said before, I welcome the visit. I compliment the American President for his bold step, but he needs to take the beam out of his own eye, before he can start taking the beam out of the eye of the Cuban President! The right of assembly? What happened when the American people occupied Wall Street Square, were they hailed as people exercising their human rights or were they chased away with batons and tear gas by the police? America is an anti- workers country where the odds are stacked against the working class. America thrives on cheap labour and is against any leader who works in the interest of the working class people. An educated working class as exist in Cuba is poison to the Americans, for you cannot exploit a people who have been educated, for their eyes have been opened. Point me to one rich and prosperous American who became rich and prosperous by paying their workers proper wages and by treating them fairly and as equals, point me to just one of them? Cheap labour, convict labour, exploitative labour. Donald Trump is saying that he is going to build a wall to block out the Mexicans when a lot of them worked for him; it must also be remembered that Calfornia, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, once belonged to Mexico and America forcibly deprived Mexico of them. The original lands in the rest of America, belonged to the RED INDIANS and that they were forcibly deprived of their land. I would like to remind President Obama who I admire as a Black man becoming the President and the first truly educated in the history of American Presidents to learn the sordid history of his country before he spouts the issue of human rights to any body. Why didn’t Pesident Obama assured the Cuban People that Guantanamo was going to be returned to them and when? Why didn’t he admit that the dissident elements in Cuba are those who once oppressed and fleeced the workers of Cuba and who long for the glory days when Cuba was known worldwide as the whorehouse of the world, where school girls were abducted and placed in brothels to satisfy the American clientel? Why didn’t he inform the world that these same dissidents are suppored by America and that the only reason why America has not armed them to overthrow the Revolution is that they are few in numbers and possess no real clout in the country?

  • You obviously do not know the typical German’s view of US society. Nonetheless, your superarrogant American exceptionalism shines thru once again. BTW, didn’t you get the memo yet, as you like to say ? Those stories of balseros risking their lives to “escape the dictatorship” as opposed to migrating for economic benefit like millions of Mexicans, is passe

  • There is no need for Germany to share it’s vision for the US with Americans. Our respective democracies are more alike than we are different. We want the same things. Your flaccid attempt to criticize the US would be better served if you had used China as the example. Even then, would could China tell us? Less democracy, less crime? Less freedom, less inflation? No thanks, we like it the way it is. But when Americans start taking rafts to China to escape a US dictatorship, then maybe you will have a point.

  • How many leaders come to the US and tell us what we should do ? The German vision for the United States ? The Russian, the Chinese, the Indian visions? Although Obama was a great pitchman, you would have to be extremely naive or oblivious to history to believe that recently one morning Obama and the ruling elite woke up and decided to allow Cuba and Cubans to decide their own affairs. Or that the United States truly cares about human rights in Cuba, when in Hillary Clinton’s Honduras, Battalion 3-16 murders dozens of human rights, indigenous and environmental activists, sodomizing them with police batons beforehand. After all, wasn’t Raul supposed to respond to the question about political prisoners ? Obama’s show was just that. It does not change the last 57 years in two days and it does not mean that the nature of the world’s hegemon has suddenly, inexplicably become benevolent peaceful and disinterested.

  • article is fine but need to be more realistic !

  • The handful of criticisms repeated by Castro sycophants center on three themes: Obama failed to apologize; Obama made no mention of reparations; Obama did not say when he will close Guantanamo.

  • A very good visit by Mr. Obama.

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