The siren Obama in his grand tour of Havana

April 5, 2016
Andrés Gómez, Areítodigital director

Miami.-I went to Havana to cover the visit of the President of the United States, Barack Obama, which, as we all know, took place March 20 to 23. It was an extraordinary historic event for numerous and important reasons.

First, because for more than half a century, 57 years and a few months exactly, the United States administrations have maintained a permanent policy of aggression against the Cuban people and Cuban revolutionary government, policies that have not changed substantially, much less been overturned.

Still, it is very positive that the governments of the United States and Cuba have decided to reestablish diplomatic relations with embassies; that Washington is taking steps, albeit very cautious ones, to modify the genocidal policy of the Blockade; and that both governments on many levels are conversing about many important issues. One can see that they are negotiating some aspects of their differences, given the new ties in the process of normalizing their relations.

It is in this context, more extraordinary than just unusual, that President Obama’s visit to Havana took place, where he was received very cordially and at the same time, with firmness. But the sky, the beautiful Cuban sky, was not friendly towards the U.S. president, remaining overcast, with the brilliant Cuban sun practically invisible during his short visit from the moment that the gigantic presidential plane landed at 4:18 Sunday afternoon, March 20, when it began to shower, until almost exactly the same hour when his plane took off on Wednesday, March 23.

All those interested persons, whether in Cuba, in the United States and other parts of the world, could see his official speeches and talks without any problem, through television transmission and social networks. It was very transparent, like the recent visits of Pope Francis to Cuba and the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, Kiril, to Havana.

In Havana, where all the presidential fanfare took place, the people were interested in what was happening, curious above all about what this could mean for relations between the two countries; hopeful that what was going on might spell the end of the Blockade, and a resulting notable improvement to their standard of life that is so affected by its continuance.

On a lighter note, the people were also concerned to know how their travel to and from work would be affected, given the number of streets and avenues that were closed to vehicular traffic, and by the diverting of bus routes for reasons of security. It ended up not being a great inconvenience for the population. Many convinced themselves that this meant they could stay home from work and many did so on Monday the 21st and Tuesday the 22nd of March.

In the same way it could be said that the immense majority of the people are hoping that Obama, or any other U.S. president, or the Pope, any Pope, returns to Havana as soon as possible, so that the government continues its custom of fixing the streets before these visits, as has happened beginning with Pope John Paul II in 1998.

Who did President Obama convince with his siren song? I suppose those Cubans who were already convinced or who wished to be convinced of his capitalist proposals for Cuba.

For others, good people, simple but firm, and who really didn’t understand what that man was doing here when the Blockade continues in force. But they maintained a cordial attitude, they found his talks very nice and his gestures and behavior very pleasant, they saw an educated and respectful man. Others, many of them young, were not interested in the slightest, nor are they interested in national political issues. And others, the much more politicized Cuban men and women, committed to the profound political struggle of the revolutionary process, are convinced without a doubt, that the process of normalization of relations between both countries will continue being a long, controversial and rough process. And as it has been during the long 57 years of this process the Cuban nation continues to risk its own existence.

Coincidence or not, the speech of President Obama to the Cuban government and people, March 22, took place in the same theater — then named the National Theater — where Calvin Coolidge, the other U.S. president who visited Havana officially, gave his speech during the inaugural session of the VI Pan American Conference, January 16, 1928.

With the Platt Amendment still imposed by the United States as an Appendix to the political Constitution of the Republic, with the legacy of that other U.S. military intervention in Cuba, the second one, due to this Constitutional Appendix and the innumerable and scandalous interventions of Washington in the governing of Cuba, and with the shameful U.S. support for the bloody dictatorship of Gerardo Machado at that time, President Coolidge cynically asserted in his speech in what is now the Grand Theater of Havana:

“30 years ago, Cuba was a foreign possession [of Spain], torn by hostile forces. Today Cuba is sovereign. Its people is independent and free, prosperous, in peace and enjoying the advantages of self-determination. The intellectual qualities of the Cuban people have assured it a permanent place in sciences, art and literature […] It has achieved a position of stability of its government as a genuine expression of public opinion through clean elections.”

The siren song of President Obama in his gala of the Grand Theater of Havana corroborates what is currently at stake for Cuba, given the intentions of the U.S. government. The phrase, ‘siren song’, “is used to mean an elaborate speech with pleasant and convincing words, but which hide a certain seduction or deceit.”

I point out here a few assertions of the United States president that day: “[…] Many people on both sides of this debate have asked, Why now? Why now? The answer is simple: What the United States was doing was not working. We have the courage to recognize that truth. A policy designed for the Cold War has little meaning in the 21st century. The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping it.” […]

“This leads me to a bigger and more important reason for these changes, I believe in the Cuban people, I believe in the Cuban people [told dramatically two times in Spanish]. This is not just a policy of normalization of relations with the Cuban government. The United States of America is normalizing its relations with the Cuban people.” […]

“And today, I want to share with you my vision of what could be our future. I want the Cuban people — especially the youth — to understand why I believe you should see the future with hope. In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people is capable of building: it is called Miami.”

That old imperial attribute of the United States toward Cuba, as reflected in the Platt Amendment and the Helms Burton law — of arrogating for itself the right to speak in the name of the Cuban people, ignoring the sovereign right of the Cuban to speak and make clear its condition of being free through its government — was made clear by the U.S. president not only on this occasion.

He expressed the same in his public speech on December 19, 2011, when he claimed: “The future of Cuba has to be decided by the Cuban people. This has not been the case for decades, and it is true today. The Cuban people deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities, as any other people. That is why the United States will continue supporting the fundamental rights of the Cuban people.”

The President of the United States, true to his role, insists on a capitalist future for the Cuban people, as if the revolutionary process had not been shaped by capitalism and its inseparable dependency and economic and political control by the United States.

There are some who maintain that that capitalism was 50 years ago and not the capitalism of today. Of course, there is no one as blind as he who refuses to see.

When asked by an Argentinian journalist at the press conference with the U.S. and Argentinian presidents in Buenos Aires on March 24, to comment on the work of the Argentinian president in the first 3 months of government (which has left more than 100,000 workers unemployed), Obama said: “We are impressed by the work done in these 100 days, he is setting an example for other countries in this hemisphere.”

This is the capitalist future that the President of the United States also wants for the Cuban people.