The Meaning of Obama’s Visit to Cuba

Jesús Arboleya on March 17, 2016

progresso weeklySo far, the news have focused on the president’s likely activities, this past week’s announcement of new measures to relax the United States’ economic blockade, and the political stances of both governments regarding the event, issued through statements by functionaries or — in the case of Cuba — through editorials in Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba.

From my point of view, beyond the temporal or anecdotal statements, the importance of this visit lies in the possibility of establishing a precedent regarding the political patterns of what constitutes a unique moment in the history of relations between the two countries.

As the press has noted, only one U.S. president in office, the Republican Calvin Coolidge, paid an official visit to Cuba in 1928. It wasn’t even an event characterized as a bilateral encounter; he came here to attend the Sixth Pan-American Conference being held in Havana.

Coolidge had been invited by the dictator Gerardo Machado, in the expectation that his presence in Cuba might serve as backing to the efforts by the Cuban political class to extend their mandate automatically through a constitutional amendment. That effort was soundly rejected by the people and finally led to the 1930 Revolution.

In line with that intention, the Cuban government was extremely submissive to the U.S. president. The Cuban delegation took advantage of its condition as host of the event to neutralize the effort of some of the Latin American delegations, who were interested in adopting a resolution against the United States’ military intervention in the region, which was then involved in various conflicts, especially in Nicaragua.

As told by journalist Ciro Bianchi, Cuban Secretary of State Orestes Ferrara stated on that occasion that his government could not oppose U.S. intervention because, thanks to it, Cuba had achieved independence. Clearly, Obama’s visit will reflect no such submission.

Nor will it be the result of the degree of friendship that has been attained. Both governments have made clear their differences and Obama himself has stated plainly that his policy toward Cuba is only a change in method, with a view to modifying the regime that exists in the country.

So, if the visit is not a result of dependence or amity, why will it take place and what will be its significance?

The visit will not be exempt from contradictions. One of Obama’s intentions, according to his spokesmen, is to meet with the so-called domestic “dissidents” and stimulate their activities, which is viewed by the Cuban side as interference in Cuba’s internal affairs.

Anything that Obama does in that regard will surely monopolize the attention of the international press, even though the U.S. leaders themselves are aware that such actions are more symbolic than practical, given the characteristics of those groups, their scant impact on Cuban society and even their dysfunctionality with regard to the projection of U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Nevertheless, for the president, who is conditioned by the electoral process underway in the U.S., any favorable gestures toward these groups constitute a shield against the criticism of his adversaries, who accuse him of being too “soft” in his policy toward Cuba.

More important to Obama will be to try to consolidate the accomplishments made in the process of negotiation between the two countries and to advance in areas that may promote a possible irreversibility of those gains. Doing so will constitute one of the principal legacies of his administration, and his Cuba policy has been widely accepted in the U.S. and elsewhere, producing political benefits that Obama will try to exploit to the fullest.

Improved relations with Cuba correspond with his vision of the world and his ideas about the “intelligent” manner in which his country should articulate its international hegemony.

It goes without saying that two of Cuba’s basic demands, i.e., an end to the economic blockade and the return of the Naval Base at Guantánamo, will not be solved during this visit.

Nor has the U.S. side given any signs that it is willing to advance in the discussion over the issue of migration, even though the interpretation of “dry foot/wet foot” that validates the illegal entry of Cuban migrants into U.S. territory has recently been the cause of notorious international conflicts and the subject of criticism from various sectors of U.S. society.

Still, Obama has the power to move forward in other areas like the new regulations announced this week that facilitate the travel of U.S. citizens to Cuba and the easing of financial relations by allowing the use of the dollar in transactions with Cuba.

Although the real extent of such measures remains to be seen, they [are] an important step forward in the implementation of the new policy.

To Cuba, the new scenario in its relations with the U.S. contributes to the stability required by its own process of economic reform — considered as the mother of the current political battles — and Cuba’s insertion, in improved conditions, into the world market.

In that sense, Obama’s visit has a relevant symbolic value. Despite its interpretation as a change in methods, not in objectives, international relations are firmed up in the methods, and in this case they mean a recognition of the legitimacy of the Cuban government. An advancement in relations based on equality and mutual respect has been a historic objective of the Cuban Revolution.

It is also an example of internal political soundness that allows Cuba to host the U.S. president without altering the course of its own decisions and the nation’s sovereignty, regardless of the intentions and actions of the U.S. executive.

It is to be hoped, therefore, that Obama will have the freedom required to accomplish his activities in Cuba and that these will be broadly reported — assuming that the president’s objective is not to arrive here as a provocateur.

The moral is that we can discuss everything and disagree on almost everything yet find areas of common interest that will benefit both countries, opening the door to what we might call “a coexistence of opposites” that in itself constitutes a good example to the existing international order.

Another singularity of Obama’s visit is that Cuba perhaps will be the only country in the world where he will not witness signs of popular rejection. (Anyone who doubts this should wait and see how he’ll be welcomed in Argentina.) But he won’t be received as a hero, as some hope.

It will be a “normal” visit, which is what awaits any sensible person. And we hope that the same happens when, through elementary diplomatic reciprocity, it’s President Raúl Castro’s turn to visit the United States.

The meaning of Obama’s visit to Cuba.

Source: Progresso Weekly

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