The Wrong Interlocutor / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

US President Barack Obama, this February. (WhiteHouse)
US President Barack Obama, this February. (WhiteHouse)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 February 2016 — More often than reason dictates – since the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States – statements, newspaper articles and even open letters have appeared taking to task president Barack Obama for a decision that some consider a political mistake, an excessive concession to the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere or, at best, naïve. There have even been those who have gone so far as to accuse the American president of orchestrating “a betrayal of democratic Cubans,” even if unaccompanied by arguments to support such an affirmation.

Without wishing to discuss the sovereign rights of each person to say what their own intellect dictates, it is noteworthy that the angriest complaints rest on questions that are not attributes exclusive to the president of the United States. Let’s take, for example, the issue of the relations themselves. Has this political rapprochement been more beneficial to the Cuban government, perhaps, than the acceptance and recognition it has had from other democratic governments? That is, countries such as Germany, Great Britain, France and Spain, among others, that have maintained relations with the Cuban dictator for years, and yet to date their governments have not received so many complaints on the part of those who indict president Obama for the same “crime.”

Another interesting issue is the wave of anxiety over the lifting of restrictions on Americans’ visits to the island, and trading between US producers and Cuban companies, when for decades we have received millions of European and Canadian visitors and have traded with businesses in numerous democratic companies without, so far, raising so many hackles.

In fact, foreign investors have been active on the island since the nineties – among them the well-known entrepreneurs from our stepmother country, Spain, which have exploited native labor ad nauseam in flagrant violation of the laws of international entities that defend the rights of workers – and have offered the Cuban government greater profits than all the relaxations of the embargo pushed by the US administration.

I wonder why Cubans’ democratic longings have never been directed toward the politicians and businessmen of that nation, culturally and historically related to the island, and why it has never offered vertical and openly declared – or at least convincing – support for the struggle for democracy on the island.

Is the critical approach of Barack Obama to the Castro dictatorship morally more reprehensible than the flirting of Madrid’s Moncloa Palace with the Palace of the Revolution, or than the entertainment received by the general-president Castro II during his recent stay in France, cradle of modern democracy?

Was it not the Holy Father himself, the humble Francis, who gave major honors to the island satrapy by favoring the ex-president Castro I with a personal visit, while deliberately ignoring the repression of the dissidents, avoiding a meeting with representatives of civil society, and conveniently omitting any criticism of the deplorable state of human rights in Cuba?

However, with a persistence worthy of better causes, the critics of the current US administration maintain a moral blockade against Barack Obama, as if he should take responsibility for the history and destiny of a people that has been sufficiency irresponsible as to allow itself the sad eccentricity of supporting the longest dictatorship in memory in the Western world.

Recently in this newspaper, a letter was published where a Cuban directed four personal questions to President Obama (Four Questions For You, President Obama). These four questions summarize approximately the same complaints and demands of a great number of the resentful, who do not understand why the president of our northern neighbor “has taken no [effective] actions” to force the Cuban dictatorship to respect the democratic rights of Cubans, or why he has not done enough to guarantee the quality of life of the islanders since 17 December 2014, as if some of these issues were priorities or key issues for the president of a foreign country and not matters that we Cubans are capable of resolving ourselves.

Paradoxically, this young Cuban who says he “does not want to emigrate and dreams of a free, independent and democratic Cuba” has clearly subordinated Cuba’s national sovereignty to the will and decisions of that foreign government. Indeed, some patriots show themselves to be so passionately naive that one doesn’t know whether to give them a round of applause or burst into tears.

But this is how things are in these parts. There are also others abstractly flying an exacerbated civicism that falters, however, when they try to apply it to daily life. I wonder if this young man and so many other “demanding” Cubans here – in particular those who attend the meetings to nominate candidates or the so-called “Accountability Assemblies” – have had the courage to ask their representative what he or she is going to do to guarantee the human rights, freedom and prosperity of (at least) their neighbors and the community.

And taking the matter to a more individual level, how many of them ask themselves what they are doing to change the state of affairs in Cuba.

Personally, I have no demands of President Barack Obama nor to any specific foreign government. Most likely if I were in his shoes I would do the same: seek to safeguard the interests of my nation and my compatriots, as well as the safety of my loved ones. It is what I aspire to in a future Cuban president, when we live in a democracy. I suppose that Mr. Obama has every right from his own discernment to think: If Cubans in great enthusiasm applauded the installation of a dictatorship from before I was born, if they have chosen to escape it or to tolerate its excesses ad infinitum, who am I to assume the role of redeemer?

It seems cynical, and may be so, but if you look at it coldly, it’s reality. The Cuban dictatorship has done exactly what we have allowed it to do. And it will remain on the throne of power as long as it wants, not only for its own absolute power but because Cubans consent. For an autocracy to succumb there doesn’t have to be an assault on barracks or the unleashing of a war; it is enough to stop obeying it.

Until that happens, we can bombard Barack Obama or the next occupant of the White House with any questions we like; the truth is that the real answer is among ourselves.