14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 19 March 2017 – It rained when the presidential plane touched down on the tarmac at Havana’s Airport. On 20 March 2016, Barack Obama began a historic visit to the island that awakened hopes and sparked questions. One year after that visit, Cubans are taking stock of what happened and, in particular, what did not happen.
The tenant of the White House evoked waves of enthusiasm during his tour of Havana’s streets. His official agenda included talking with young entrepreneurs, he appeared on a comedy TV show, he visited a private restaurant, and he met with representatives from civil society. They were intense days during which popular illusions reached historic records.
However, Obama’s decision to eliminate the wet foot/dry foot policy before the end of his term in January, caused that sympathy to plummet. Now, inquiring about his legacy on Cuban streets leads to answers mostly filled with criticism, resentment or a sense of betrayal.
“I lost my life,” Luis Pedroso, a soundman by profession, tells 14ymedio, He sold all his property to pay for an illegal trip to the United States. He left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, and then crossed Mexico and arrived at the border in Nuevo Laredo, on 12 January when the immigration policy that benefitted Cubans was no longer in force.
“What did he do that for?” asks Pedroso, about the act of the Democrat. “We Cubans gave him our hearts and he betrayed us,” he says. The man sleeps on the couch of his sister’s house waiting to “make money again to leave.” He thinks “Trump is less sympathetic,” but perhaps, “will get more loyal.”
The months following the presidential visit, the emigration of Cubans to the United States continued its growing trend. More than 50,000 Cubans entered US territory during fiscal year 2016, according to the Office of Field Operations of the Customs and Border Protection Service.
Norma works as a saleswoman in a private coffee shop in Havana’s Chinatown. She recalls that in the days when Obama was on the island, “people were going crazy all over to try to see him.” She was among the hundreds of people who crowded along the Paseo del Prado when word spread that The Beast (Obama’s armored car) would pass by with the presidential family.
The woman was especially hopeful about the economic benefits that could come from the trip. “It seemed that everything would be fixed and that we self-employed workers would be able to import and bring products from over there,” she reflects. But, “everything is stuck,” is continues.
The entrepreneur would like to bring an “ice cream machine” from the United States, and “ask for a loan or find an investor who wants to put money into a small business.” However, the customs restrictions imposed on the Cuban side make commercial imports difficult, and there is no easy way to send supplies to the island from the United States.
Nor have expectations in the countryside been met. Luis Garcia, a farmer dedicated to planting rice outside Cienfuegos believes that “everything has been greatly delayed.” The flexibilities implemented by Obama from the beginning of the diplomatic thaw were mainly directed toward the private and agricultural sectors, but “the benefits haven’t appeared,” said the farmer.
The Cienfueguero continues to plow the land with an old yoke of oxen and recalls that “there was much talk about the arrival of “resources, tractors and seeds, but everything remains the same.” Nevertheless he believes that “Obama has been the best president of the United States with regards to us, a man of integrity,” he says.
The activists, who talked with Obama on that occasion and behind closed doors, are also taking stock after twelve months.
For Dagoberto Valdés, director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), the main result of the trip was “to show that ‘the enemy’ used as a weapon in the Cuban government’s narrative was willing to offer a white rose,” as Obama demonstrated in his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.
The speech, broadcast live, is considered by many as “the best part of the visit,” says Valdez, who recognizes that “a year later, unfortunately, the situation in Cuba is worsening.” He cites an increase in repression, the attacks on the United States in the official discourse, which continues to be one of “trenches and confrontation.”
The opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa was also at that table at the US Embassy in Havana. He points out that after the arrival of the Democrat there was an emphasis on “an awareness that our problems are our problems, not problems caused by the United States.” Obama helped to defuse the “historic tension” between “democracy and nationalism.”
On the other hand, the regime opponent Martha Beatriz who was traveling during the historic visit, sums up the impact of Obama’s trip as “none.” While “he left everyone filled with hopes,” on the contrary, “what he did was to put a final end to the wet foot/dry foot policy.”
The former prisoner of the Black Spring believes that the visit “is not something that is remembered gratefully right now.” When it happened, “everyone was very happy and filled with hopes, but a year later it’s completely different,” she emphasized.
The columnist Miriam Celaya believes that beyond “being in favor or against” Obama’s actions toward the island “there is one thing that is undeniable, and that is that he marked the Cuban policy of the last fifty years like no other American president.”
Celaya believes that the Democrat “ended the exceptionality” of the Cuban issue “by taking away the government’s foreign enemy.” A situation that has the Plaza of the Revolution “forced to render accounts. Ending the wet foot/dry foot policy,” also contributed to ending “the emigration preference for Cubans in the United States.”
“Any policy towards Cuba framed by US politicians, as long as this system lasts, will have as an obligatory reference this parting of the waters achieved by Obama,” the independent journalist says.
Celaya believes that the population developed “tremendous expectations that are now completely deflated. Many see Obama as the beloved and the hated,” an attitude that puts “the solutions in the United States, as if they have to come from outside,” she says.
The leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, believes that Obama “did everything possible to help the people out of the deep crisis in which Castroism has plunged us,” but “the regime closed all the doors”.
The outgoing president urged Raúl Castro “to open up to his people, to allow the people to recover the spaces” but instead, the authorities remain “in their old position of controlling everything and doing nothing that endangers the total control they have over society. ”
“What’s up, Cuba?” Obama tweeted when his plane was about to land in Cuba. Today, listening to that question generates more concerns than certainties.