Copy-editor: Hilbert Morales, El Observador
President Obama’s historic trip to Havana, Cuba (is) the first American president to visit since Calvin Coolidge (1928). (A) new era in (foreign) relations (begins) not only with Cuba, but also with our hemispheric neighbors.
Extensive press coverage of the trip will feature the President’s meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro; the Tuesday baseball game pitting Cuba’s national team vs. Tampa Bay; meetings with business leaders and with Cuban dissidents. We’ll see photos of aged Chevy’s, of lovely but crumbling mansions, of Cuba’s lively culture and its widespread poverty.
Cuba surely is a poor country. Its government still enjoying popular support, is far removed from democracy. Freedom of speech and assembly are greater than most realize, but still severely policed. But much of what we think about Cuba is upside down, and inside out.
First: In many ways, the president’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba isn’t so much ending their isolation as ending (America’s isolation). Cuba has enjoyed good and growing relations with our hemispheric neighbors for years. Those countries have threatened to exclude U.S.A. from meetings if we continued to demand Cuba’s exclusion. We have sought to isolate Cuba for over 50 years; (America) ended up isolating itself.
Second: For many across the world, Cuba, not the U.S.A., has been on the right side of history. Cuba supported Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress; U.S.A. supported the apartheid government and labeled Mandela a terrorist. When South Africa invaded Angola (mid-1970s) to block its independence movement, it was Cuba, not the U.S.A. which sent troops to force South Africa’s withdrawal. One of the first visits Mandela made after he was freed, was to Havana to thank Fidel Castro for his support, hailing the Cuban revolution as “a source of inspiration to all freedom-loving peoples.”
Similarly, for many across Africa and Latin America, Cuba is known for supplying doctors, teachers, and aiding in the development of nations emerging from colonialism. America, too often, has been either allied with the former colonialists or hostile to the emerging independent movements (& its leadership).
Third: While some of Cuba’s poverty is self-inflicted, some is the direct result of 50 embargo years. Cuba is a small island nation, 90 miles off our coast, without its own oil. Before the revolution, its tourism industry and foreign investment were central to its economy. The revolution upended that order. The embargo severed these and many new ties. During Cold War years, the Soviet Union alone provided a lifeline for the (Castro) regime. After the Cold War, many more countries ignored America’s embargo and begun to do trade with Cuba directly.
Fourth: Most popular leaders in South America see Cuba as an example of proud, national independence. (America’s) hostility to Castro elevated his stature worldwide. South America’s emerging populist leaders don’t plan to imitate Cuban socialism, which is being slowly reformed. But they are envious of Cuba’s health care and education systems, which provide Cubans with a standard of health and educational opportunity far above most developing countries.
Fifth: Cuba has not been closed to (America); U.S.A. has been closed to Cuba. The Cubans have been looking for a dialogue for years. When (Jesse Jackson) went to Cuba (during 1984), he met with Fidel Castro and even took him to church. (Both) negotiated the release of 22 American and 26 Cuban political prisoners. Fidel Castro was ready for a dialogue then, but America continued its no-talk policy until President Obama finally launched this historic initiative.
Reform will come slowly in a Cuba which is proud of its revolution and anxious to preserve its gains in health care and education. Cuba’s foreign policy will remain proudly independent. The (Castro) regime remains on guard against America’s efforts to undermine it from within.
But (American) reform will also come slowly. To this day, the U.S. Congress refuses to lift an embargo that punishes a small neighbor off our coast. Our arrogant ideological blinders make it hard for us to see Cuba whole. President Obama has opened the door. Increasing travel & tourism, cultural exchanges and business investment will push it open further. Most Americans already support establishment of normal foreign relations with Cuba and ending a failed embargo policy already over a half a century old.
EO Publisher’s Note:
Some day soon, we hope even the ideologues and zealots in the U.S. Congress will get the message: Repeal the Cuban embargo: TRADE AND TOURISM will benefit both America and Cuba.