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Obama’s historic visit to Cuba

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The Republican establishment and its 2016 presidential candidates never cease to amaze me. At a time when over 50 per cent of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, support the efforts to restore normal relations with Cuba, they see it as a major disaster, especially the two Cuban-American candidates (actually one has dropped out) who have pledged to reverse what is done.{{more}} They are certainly on the wrong side of history and perhaps, on the right side of stupidity. I have just listened to Obama’s address to the Cuban people and I consider it among his best speeches. He is confronting a very difficult and ticklish situation, but to my mind he has spoken the right words and taken the right approach. There are those sceptics who argue that President Obama should have demanded more from the Cubans before making efforts to restore normal diplomatic relations. Although not directly addressing those critics, he gave what I consider to be the most appropriate response, which moved him away from the old Cold War rhetoric.

Obama stated, “I affirm that Cuba’s destiny will not be decided by the United States or any other nation…Cuba is sovereign and rightly has great pride, and the future of Cuba will be decided by Cubans, not by any body… I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we’re falling short, because I think we should not be immune or afraid of criticism or discussion as well.”

Now, let us examine his statement. Cuba is sovereign and has great pride. It has been able to withstand American aggression for over 50 years. The anachronistic economic boycott that has been widely condemned throughout the world has failed to achieve its objective and in the process has created more harm for the Cuban people than for the Cuban leaders. Obama recognizes this and argues that it is time for something new. Having said so, Americans cannot expect that Cuba will surrender everything and genuflect to their wishes. They have their pride. But at the same time, who says the American system is perfect?

Obama answers this. “I actually welcome President Castro commenting on some of the areas where he feels that we are falling short…” America continues to be racist. The disgusting treatment meted out to its first black president tells it all. He has had to put up with so much that would never have been directed at a white president. The racism is reflected in the language of the leading Republican presidential candidate. His venom is directed not only at Mexicans, but at women, Muslims and Afro- Americans. The democracy that America prides itself on is one that denies millions of Afro-Americans the right to vote in some states. America is indeed a bundle of contradictions because, after all, there is indeed an Afro-American president. But to many Americans he was not born in America. America is one of the few major countries that do not have Universal Health Care, where income inequality is humongous, where there are still discrepancies between the pay for male and female employees. Obama, while admitting that their democracy was not perfect, did point to the positives.

Those Americans who do not like the position he is taking should go for President Trump, who would force the Mexicans to pay for his imaginary wall, just by telling them they have to, with the foolish argument that because there is a trade deficit to the benefit of the Mexicans they can use it to pay for the wall. Obviously, he has no idea how things work and what constitutes trade deficits. With the power he is going to give to America, others will have to surrender to his dictates. He will, in this regard, overturn the Iran deal. Obama’s foreign policy positions have been widely criticized by Americans, including some of their foreign policy experts who are frozen in time, obviously not willing to recognize that we are no longer in the immediate post-war era, but that these are different times. America is more respected under Obama than under former presidents who tried to command respect through military might, even though Vietnam and Iraq should have destroyed that.

Despite being handicapped by the refusal of Congress to lift the economic boycott, Cubans will benefit from cheaper and increased Internet services, from an opening up of flights, from the growth of the private sector, which has already started, from the opening up of banking services with the rest of the world, from easier and greater contact with the rest of the world and from Cubans living in the US. Once these and other changes take effect, Cuba will never be the same again. Any changes to be made will, however, be made by the Cuban people. There are some danger signs ahead. Large numbers of Americans are trying to get into Cuba, looking for deals, with disgruntled Cuban exiles still willing to feast on what they thought would have been the carcass of Cuba.

The rest of the world has for long been critical of the continuation of an outdated economic boycott and have regularly voted against it at the United Nations. The era of the Cold War has passed and one would have hoped, the thinking that went with it, but unfortunately so many in the US remain ideologically blindfolded. How does it benefit Americans and Cubans to continue with that outdated policy? One has to compliment Obama for going beyond this and taking a position that is progressive and sends the right signals. He admits that the road ahead is difficult, but at least he has prepared the way for two sovereign nations to respectfully relate to each other.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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