14ymedio, Pedro Campos Havana, 23 March 2016 – Cuban National Television’s (Dis)Information System collected opinions from members of the “official” civil society who went to the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro to hear, on the final day of his visit, United States President Barack Obama’s speech to the people of Cuba.
The vast majority of those selected to comment highlighted their differences with the United States on topics of politics and human rights. Almost all sought to distance themselves from the words of the visitor although a few recognized his ability to master the stage and as a communicator, and his courage in having decided on rapprochement.
“He didn’t talk to us of the Martí we know.” “Here he said one thing and I’m sure that now in Argentina he is going to say something else,” were some of the expressions heard.
Some indicated that behind the apparent good intentions of the president was his desire to impose his policies. “He said Cubans were the ones who have to decide our future, but he wants to impose on us his vision of human rights.” One of those interviewed got to the climax, “We can’t get confused, because the enemy is the enemy.”
Even some academic commentators said they felt sorry for the discourse of the extremist bureaucracy, leading some to say that speeches are one thing and actions are something else.
There were few references to the conciliatory and constructive intentions of Obama’s speech. The best offered by the “opinionated” chosen was that we should admit our differences and live with them.
Those interviewed rejected looking forward, “You can’t forget the past like he is trying to do,” said several of them, with a Manichean viewpoint.
It reminded me of the positions assumed by the extremists in Miami who do not want to come to any arrangement, all they want is to “do away with the Castros,” precisely because “you can’t forget the past.” Between these two extremes trapped in the past, Cuba’s present and future is hijacked.
Cuban National Television’s (Dis)Information System did not interview any dissident, any opponent, anyone who had a different thought, while the government only invited to the Gran Teatro the “civil society” that supports their policies.
It was an irrefutable example of the attempt to project the idea that everyone in Cuba, unanimously, has the same position as the extremist bureaucracy that dominates the official media.
If, unfortunately, such is the discourse in the official press, in redress it must be said that such positions do not represent the majority of the population. Several videos and commentaries uploaded to social networks projected this other reality.
Many people with whom I spoke showed a totally different spirit, felt warmly toward the United States president, applauded his speech and felt that he had shown a constructive position that should be honored by the Cuban side.
Many, like the visitor, felt that human rights are universal, that there is no justification for failing to uphold some because others are upheld, that there must be freedom of expression and association and that the leaders should be freely and democratically elected. They liked his words about the future, about the work of entrepreneurs and the importance of the internet to fostering development.
Ordinary people, who were never invited to the president’s official activities, those who cheered at the few opportunities where they could, making a mockery of the wide circle drawn to try to avoid any contact between the people and the visitor, never shouted “Down with Obama!” or “Down with Imperialism” as some groups shout in chorus in other parts of the world where he goes: here the chorus and the words were of respect and friendship.
Not even in the White House could Obama be safer than he is in Cuba. The echoes of this historic visit will not be easily or quickly smothered. The “imperialism” in the figure of a black man, of humble origin, but elegant, with his family, with a wide smile and his friendly and relaxed character, is nothing like that snarling white-bearded face under a striped top hat with long bloody fingernails that is always presented as our neighbor to the north.
The Cuban people outside the chambers of the Cuban National Television’s (Dis)Information System, in no way resemble the cold faces of most of those chosen to be interviewed.