14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2016 — This past Tuesday, March 22, 2016 was, without doubt, a memorable day for us, the 13 representatives of a portion of the independent civil society who had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama at the US embassy in Havana.
During the previous days, we had been invited to participate at a “high level” meeting in the framework of the US President’s visit to Cuba, and on our arrival at the embassy, what we all had expected was confirmed: Obama would meet with us behind closed doors, away from journalists’ cameras and microphones. The media was only present for a photo-session, moments before the start of the off-the-record exchange between the American president and the Cuban invitees.
Also present were other senior US officials, who were not involved in the dialogue between Obama and Cuban activists and independent journalists.
At the meeting, which lasted over an hour and 40 minutes, all guests had the opportunity to express different views on issues related to the new policy of dialogue and rapprochement between the US government and Cuba, and to advocate how some activists think this new relationship could benefit progress in the empowerment of the Cuban people and the consolidation of the civil society more efficiently.
Despite the different positions and projects represented, the great majority of Cubans at the meeting expressed openly their support for the policy of rapprochement and dialogue initiated by President Obama
Despite the different positions and projects represented, the great majority of Cubans at the meeting expressed openly their support for the policy of rapprochement and dialogue initiated by President Obama on December 17, 2014. However – and contrary to what the government discourse is spreading in its smear campaigns against the internal dissidence – none of the activists asked for any funding or material support for their projects.
Obama, meanwhile, made a show of good humor, intelligence, sensitivity and a skill in listening to everyone, though some activists went over the time allotted for their presentations, which limited further exchange with the US president, as many of us had hoped for. However, his frank interventions and the use of his usual direct language, devoid of unnecessary grandstanding, constituted a lesson in politics that left no doubt about his assertion that he is on the correct path.
This meeting demonstrates the willingness of the US government to maintain open communication channels with all participants of Cuban society, regardless of political beliefs, ideologies, dogmas and programs
Obviously, there is always much left to discuss at such encounters, but at any rate, this meeting demonstrates the willingness of the US government to maintain – as has been its tradition and political practice to date – open communication channels with all participants of Cuban society, regardless of political beliefs, ideologies, dogmas and programs. This position does not refute the importance of continuing the current dialogue with Cuban officials and should be emulated by governments and representatives of all democratic societies in the world, which are always eager to ignore the dissident sectors and to deny their corresponding role in the process of change that has begun to be carried out in Cuba.
Obama honored the activists of the independent civil society in devoting a generous portion of his time during his brief visit, and he showed absolute respect for Cubans, for our sovereignty and for the pro-democracy projects. His idea summarizes the essence of his policy: the future of Cuba and the construction of a democratic society are the sole responsibility of Cubans on the Island and in the diaspora.
Personally, this meeting with Obama left me with the impression of what an unaffected person he is, of his extraordinary intellect, his knowledge about Cuban history and the relationship between our two countries. A great man, whose name will ultimately be linked to the Cuban process of transition, just as he will be known by future generations of the offspring of this Island.
Translated by Norma Whiting