Say what you will about Barack Obama, but something is undeniable: the man is full of surprises.
Who could have imagined that on December 17, 2014, Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro would shock the world by jointly announcing the reestablishment of diplomatic relations? It was a momentous decision that many people –me included—never thought would live long enough to see.
But the first Black President of the U.S. had more surprises up his sleeve. He shocked the world again with his just revealed plan to visit Cuba next month, a decision that leaves no doubt that 55 years of Cold War between Washington and Havana has ended and that — despite the protestations of the Rubios, Lehtinens and their ilk — the sea change in US-Cuba relations is as real as it is irreversible.
The image of the U.S. President standing at the beautiful Havana Malecón, is sure to provoke all kinds of reactions in the people of Cuba that, after 55 years if animosity, await his visit with a mixture of hope and apprehension.
Many believe that the fact that Obama arrives in Havana on March 21, less than four weeks before the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, is meant to show support for Castro and his policies.
“We are going to have good relations and mutual respect and mutual influence, but what is Cuban is Cuban, so don’t come to try to buy us or with annexation plans,” said Manuel Ramy, a Havana journalist in a phone conversation. “Without a doubt, Obama’s visit is a reaffirmation of his policies and of the direction Raúl Castro is taking Cuba.”
This reaffirmation doesn’t mean that decades of aggressions are going to be erased by Obama’s visit. After all the embargo remains in place and the Obama administration continues ruthlessly persecuting any institution that dares to engage in business with Cuba.
As Josefina Vidal, Cuba’s main negotiator with the U.S. made clear, many important issues remain unresolved.
“Of course,” Vidal said, “to reach the normalization of those bilateral relations some key issues still pending would have to be cleared up, including lifting the blockade and returning to Cuba the illegally occupied territory of the Guantanamo naval base.”
Something is evident: The North American President is not arriving to a fearful, submissive little island subjected to the imperialist whims of its powerful neighbor, but to a proud, sovereign country that, against all odds, has resisted every attempt to make it surrender. Cuba would never accept not being treated as an equal at the negotiating table and to his credit, Obama understands it.
For Ramy, this is a decisive moment in the history of Cuba.
“It is an exciting reality, a key and delicate moment for our country,” he said. “But I am optimistic because I believe that change is unstoppable and will come in our own terms.”
Meanwhile, José Martí’s haunting words keep repeating themselves in my mind: “I lived in the monster and I know its entrails”.
(From Al Día News)
[Photo at top of Havana’s Malecon at sunset.]