Ivan Garcia, Havana, 23 March 2016 — Three hours before Obama delivered his speech in the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro in Havana, while he was having his breakfast of bread and butter and cold lemonade in a private cafe in La Vibora, Anselmo shared ideas with a friend as to what matters the President of the United States would deal with in his address.
“You will see that the man will talk about the lack of democracy and human rights. This chap is not an idiot like Pope Francis or the President of France. He’s going to announce new things”, he said.
His companion was more pessimistic. “Doesn’t matter what he says, nothing’s going to change here. When he goes, the usual will happen. It’ll change when the old gits who run the government finally kick the bucket. Forget about what Obama could offer us. Remember that Fidel and Raúl are Spanish. If you wanted to find more obstinate people, you’d have to get them specially made”, says an old grey-haired chap, gesturing with his hands.
The disnformation and rumours swirl around. “I’m not going to miss the speech. They say Obama is going to announce the end of the blockade”, says an old lady selling cones of peanut in Avenida Acosta in the 10 de Octubre district in the south of the capital.
Since Sunday 20th March, the weather is quite fresh and the Lenten winds cause waves which top the walls of the Malecón.
To get a taxi to the old part of the city, Vedado or Miramar is almost mission impossible. “Many streets are closed, and the police are being very difficult. I am not going to work until Obama goes. And I am not going to miss his speech or the Tampa game,” says Victor, driver of a ’55 Ford.
When Obama started his moving address, using his oratorical gift, combining it with specific subliminal messages, he emphasised that democracy and political rights are not a whim or a luxury, in this 21st century they are a necessity.
Even in the auditorium, with an audience carefully-chosen by the authorities, you could hear applause when Obama mentioned the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression.
Drawing parallels from the fight for racial integration in the United States, Obama made it clear that democracy in all its glory is the jewel in the crown of human rights.
Susana, an engineer, says that her eyes filled with tears when Obama described his meeting with a Cuban lady who had not seen her sister for 61 years. “In 1979 I saw my father leave for the States and I never saw him again. He died last year and I couldn’t even go to his funeral. These things have to end. The cost of the political polarisation between the two governments is being paid for by ordinary Cubans. Hopefully, Obama’s words don’t just blow away in the wind.”
Minutes after his historic speech in the enemy’s house, Obama arrived in Cadillac One, which caused a sensation in Havana, at the US embassy. For just under an hour, he held a discussion with 13 representatives of the Cuban opposition.
At the same time, in another room, four journalists, who were “unmuzzled”, met Ben Rhodes, one of the architects of the thawing-out strategy with the Castro regime.
In the conversationn, Rhodes did not contribute anything new. Of course, Obama´s adviser has a bomb-proof belief that the new politics will permit the empowerment of the Cuban people.
Although there are no historical precedents to show that discussions, internet, and an open channel for dialogue with dictatorial regimes smooth the way to democracy,
Both Rhodes and Obama insist that détente is a better option than interference or economic sanctions. But a lot of Cubans have little expectation that there will be a move toward democracy in Cuba within the lifetime of the Castros.
Last year, 43 thousand Cubans abandoned their country in search of decent pay and a reasonable standard of living. They voted with their feet. I have no doubt that after Obama´s visit, the Cuban exodus will continue.
Photo: The President of the United States saluting from the door of Air Force One. It was after 4 pm on Tuesday 22nd March, it wasn´t raining, but the Lenten wind that you get in spring and Easter made itself felt on the runway of Rancho Boyeros Airport and throughout the city of Havana. To say goodbye to him there was Raúl Castro, with Raulito, his grandson, bodyguards, and some others. A few hours later, Obama, his wife, two daughters, and his mother-in-law, arrived in the early morning in Buenos Aires for a two-day visit to Argentina. (Source: Telemundo.)
Translated by GH