End of the Obama Era: Valuable Time Lost / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)
Barack Obama in one of the last rallies of support for Hillary Clinton. (EFE / EPA / CRISTOBAL HERRERA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 November 2016 – On Tuesday a new era opens for the United States and for the rest of the nations on the planet, while for Cuba a period of great opportunities will end, one that the Plaza of the Revolution’s stubbornness did not use to its advantage.

The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana, announced on 17 December 2014, began a time of possibilities to improve the lives of the Cuban people, a time that the Cuban government received with excessive caution. Every step taken by Barack Obama was responded to with suspicion by Raul Castro, without any lessening of political repression and, in recent months, with a escalation in the tone of ideological rhetoric.

The general-president has wasted the enthusiasm of the thaw, squandering chances and delaying – with his stubbornness – the inevitable opening that the island will experience. He has chosen entrenchment rather than ease the iron controls that strangle the country’s economic, civic and cultural life.

When the opportunity opened for Cuban coffee growers to sell their product in the United States, our side responded with a tirade from the National Association of Small Farmers. Before proposals to strengthen ties between the young people of both nations, olive-green officialdom barricaded itself in a bitter campaign against scholarships offered by the World Learning organization.

Google’s offers to help connect the island to the internet ran up against the monopoly of the Cuban Telecommunications Company, which only at the end of this year will begin a “pilot project” to bring the great World Wide Web to 2,000 homes in Old Havana. Meanwhile, censorship is still in force against digital sites, and wifi zones maintain their high prices and poor service.

The Plaza of the Revolution has focused its discourse on the glass half empty. For long months it has blamed Obama for not managing to lift the embargo or to return the Guantanamo Naval Base, a propaganda strategy of strident demands to cover up the evidence that our neighbor to the north has shown itself in a better mood for reconciliation.

The photos of Castro and Obama shaking hands and smiling for the cameras matter little. The reality is far from deserving the headlines in the foreign press, which tell us that Cuba has changed because Madonna walked the streets of its capital, a United States soccer team shook the stands of a stadium on the island, or that both countries are collaborating on protecting the region’s sharks.

In recent weeks, the slowdown has been felt more strongly. Cuban authorities know that the new occupant of the White House will face many challenges ahead. Her or his first months’ agenda will focus on emergencies such as the war in Syria, the conflict with ISIS, and the country’s own internal problems, which are neither few nor small. Cuba will not be a priority on the agenda of the next president of the United States.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins today, it will be some time before the new president addresses the issue of the island and makes it their own, with an imprint that could mean “freezing the thaw,” or deepening the path initiated by Obama. But the reins that keep Cuba locked in the 20th century do not issue from the Oval Office, they are held in the hands of an octogenarian who fears this future that awaits us, one where he will not be.