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Obama’s Trip to Cuba: Some Personal Reflections

Posted on the 21 March 2016 by Themarioblog @garciainteract
Obama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflectionsObama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflections
Clever editorial cartoon in this week's The Economist
Obama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflectionsObama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflections
Front page of Sunday's El Nuevo Herald, published in Miami, Florida, home to the largest number of Cuban Americans in the US
Obama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflectionsObama’s trip to Cuba: some personal reflections
One of a series of great photographs of the Cuba of today published in the Sunday edition of The New York Times

It was definitely history in the makings when Air Force One touched down in Havana Sunday afternoon, under a light rain,  as President Barack Obama became the first US President to make an appearance in Cuba since 1928, the year President Calvin Coolidge made his entrance into the Port of Havana aboard a battleship.

Much has happened to Cuba, to the United States and to the relations between the two countries since then. In a way, I am a result of those happenings, arriving in the US as a refugee in 1962 when my parents decided that Fidel Castro’s promises of a better Cuba for all Cubans was false.  They did not wish me to grow up in a communist environment.  For that decision, I am most grateful.

Today, 54 years later, the Castros are still running Cuba with a strong hand, the Cuban people are still suffering from a total lack of freedom to express themselves, to travel, to conduct the business of life which we take for granted.  I have one remaining first cousin in Cuba. She is a psychologist and her husband is a renowned artist.  Every month I send them a box with such basic necessities as toothpaste, aspirins, shampoo, vitamins and coffee, yes, while Cuba has been a coffee producing country, there is none for the people.

So, when many of you ask me how I feel about  the start of relations which began in December 2014 and were followed by the opening of a US Embassy in Havana plus assorted other deals to make travel to Cuba by Americans easier, my answer is one of skepticism.

Let me put it in perspective:

1. Indeed, the Embargo that was put into place by President John F. Kennedy is an antiquated measure that has not proved to be more than an exercise in futility and, which, indeed, gives the Castros a reason to suppress the people: “it is all the fault of those Imperialists Yankees to the North.”

2. While President Obama may have good intentions in opening a door for reconciliation with Cuba, he has done so without requiring that the Castros give much in return.  The regime remains strongly entrenched, with a firm grip on how it controls the politics, the economy and the life of the people.

3. I would rejoice if President Obama’s visit would bring about the prospect of a free election where the Cuban people can choose whoever they wish to govern their destinies.  This is not likely to happen, perhaps in my lifetime.

4. I would rejoice if, as a result of this normalization of relations with the US, my fellow journalists in Cuba would enjoy freedom of expression.

5. Finally, it would be a fantastic show of a desire for a change of course, if the Castros would allow dissidents to be part of the political discourse.  It is a good sign that President Obama will meet with dissidents.

I don’t wish to sound like a retrograde who opposes change for the sake of change.  I will even abandon notions that, as a former Cuban refugee, I still wear the scars of that tumultuous period in the relations between Cuba and the US, and for me personally, having come here without my parents at the age of 14.

I also believe that President Obama should not give the house away without asking for something substantial in return. I understand that the issue of his legacy in the last few months of his presidency may take precedence here, but a legacy is only as good as the positive results it yields, Mr. President.

The optimist in me hopes that this is more than a Spring Break trip to the island on the part of President Obama.  I also hope that historians will be able to say that the President’s visit was a turning point in establishing a better life for the Cubans in the island.

Anything short of that will be business as usual for the decrepit and ambitious Castro brothers who have subjected the people of Cuba to over half a century of despair in one of the most despotic dictatorships in the hemisphere.

I wish President Obama much success in his efforts to bring about democracy to Cuba.

I wish the Cuban people in the island the change that is so long overdue.

Related: 40 Years/40 Lessons: Refugee


I remember that Wednesday distinctly. There are few days of my life that I can recall almost hour by hour, but I do February 28, 1962. I woke up at home in Havana, nervous with anticipation, sad at the prospect of leaving my parents behind and venturing into a new country whose language I did not speak. “It is time to go,” my father told me as he pretended to drink his morning cup of cafe cubano. My mom was unusually silent. Our old cat, Simon, napped on the burgundy sofa, not a care in the world. Cats know, but they pretend a total lack of interest. There are people like that, too. Simon was a fussy ball of yellow hairs that stayed with you long after Simon had jumped off your lap . I transported Simon’s hairs to Miami in my pants that day, along with the three changes of clothing allowed by the Cuban government for those leaving Cuba.

TheMarioBlog post # 2128
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