Cubanet, Miriam Leiva, Havana, 28 March 2016 – Barack Obama’s stay in Havana between the 19th and 22nd of March was described as historic before it even took place. In reality, it was the cusp of a new cycle in the history of Cuba, begun in 2009, when the president of the United States issued the first Executive Order in his proactive “people to people” policy, allowing Cuban families to reconnect after several decades of suffering, and improving the precarious living conditions of the islanders by allowing family and friends abroad to send larger remittances.
Soon people from all walks of life were crossing the ‘bridge’ across the Florida Straits, to sink into an embrace of Cuban and American friendship. But the Obama tsunami became unstoppable on 17 December 2014 with the announcement of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington. The measures taken fostered openness, not a neutron bomb, and disintegrated the pretexts used by the Cuban leaders to justify the failures of their capricious programs, and to justify the repression.
Barack Obama is making history in Cuba, far beyond the history of relations between the United States and Cuba. He did not come to make war, like in 1898, nor with the gunboats that escorted President Coolidge in 1928, but with a wide smile, simple words, familiar but forceful, and bringing the possibility of change with a country that is politically, economically and socially devastated.
His speeches reached all Cuban through live television, and were certainly recorded by many who circulate them and cite them to exemplify every circumstance. He addressed the thorniest issues respectfully and didactically, from the concepts of democracy and human rights to the need for internal openness, and the benefits of relations to both countries. For the first time a president publicly expressed his support for the peaceful opposition and the persecuting government had to allow the fruitful meeting the president held with 13 representatives from Cuba’s independent civil society at the United States Embassy.
Obama appeared on the most popular comedy show on TV in a country where jokes about the leaders can lead to criminal charges of contempt; he walked around Havana, whose residents were the beneficiaries of repairs to the destruction accumulated over decades; he spread joy with true spontaneity; and above all, he presented great challenges to the national leaders, the only impediments to national progress.
The immense impact of the Rolling Stones’ formidable concert did not cloud people’s thinking and diminish the Obama effect. The Communist Party of Cuba will hold its Seventh Congress on April 16-18, in an unprecedented national atmosphere, with a population fed up with insecurity with regards to their daily needs, uncompleted promises, delays and slogans, with demands for real changes – for now, still in a low voice.
Barack Obama does not make changes in Cuba, but he is facilitating Cubans realizing changes. The imprint of the president of the United States will endure, contributing to making Cuban history, and he can be expected, at the end of his term in January of 2017, to continue interacting with Cubans for many years.
Translator’s note: Miriam Leiva was among the 13 civil society activists who met with President Obama in Cuba.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Miriam Leiva, born Villa Clara, Cuba, 1947. An independent journalist since 1995. Vice President of the Manuel Marquez Sterling Society of Journalists. Founding member of the Ladies in White in March 2003. Diplomat and guest lecturer at the Higher Institute of International Relations. Official of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from which she was expelled in 1992. Currently maintains the blog Cuban Reconciliacion www.reconciliacioncubana.com and is a translator and teacher of English.