Vicente Morin Aguado
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.”
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.”
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.”