Barack Obama will travel to Cuba in March, not after his term ends, as was rumored in recent months. This turn marks a further acceleration of the re-establishment of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
Developments in this direction follow one another almost every day. In the last week, the two countries restored regular flights, the Washington Chamber of Commerce received Cuban Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca with great pomp and a group of American industrialists went to Cuba to demand a speedy end to the embargo. After that, Cuba was the focus of religious dialogue with the historic meeting between Pope Francis and Orthodox Patriarch Kirill.
Friends of Cuba and those who have always opposed the embargo rejoice. The economic blockade is loosening gradually, and soon the U.S. Congress may decree a definitive end.
It will be interesting to hear what Obama himself will say about it in Havana. He is also expected to make a pronouncement on the fate of the Guantanamo Bay military base that Cubans demand returned to them, as required by an old treaty ignored by Washington. And from the Cubans, the U.S. wants their blessing for a meeting between Obama and internal opposition groups.
In diplomacy, it is difficult to indicate winners and losers. Insiders prefer to avoid the use of these categories in relations between states. But in assessing the policy toward Cuba, the failure of the American strategy is clear: the invasion attemps, the 1962 embargo, the strengthening of the embargo after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Cuba has resisted all weather.
Fidel Castro and his brother Raul now have the merit that they never wavered on their principles. They have held the bar of political coherence. This affords them permission to open the new season of Havana-Washington relations with pragmatism — a great satisfaction for Fidel, nearing 90 years old.
Whatever happens now under the skies of Cuba partly changes the historical reckoning of the barbudos revolution.
There was a chance the island would shrivel into a sort of shuttered bunker, risking internal implosion. Instead, it has imposed a policy that leaves open the road of competition between different economic and social values and models, between a neoliberal capitalism and an updated socialism based on Soviet-style, state-market mediation. Will David succeed once again in not succumbing to Goliath?
Some friends of Cuba — mostly militant groups — fear that the island, as happened to Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, may become swallowed up by its own foreign policy. The danger is there, no doubt. But the leadership of the revolution delivers a spectacular challenge to new generations: They can either stay the course of national independence and social achievements in the fields of welfare, medicine, education and culture, or they can become an appendage of the United States. Cuba returns to the same crossroads. What was the alternative?
We must have confidence in the intelligence and wisdom of the Cubans, who will decide their future. The revolution is called to a new test, no less arduous than that of the glorious past more than five decades ago. The many friends of Cuba are called, therefore, to renew their commitment to solidarity, not to loosen it.
The grim face of imperialism fell. We must be vigilant about its thinner and less coarse form. Hence the need for Cuba to accentuate its relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, reinserting itself in the international community as a country among others, the same way China and Vietnam have. And we must continue to demand an end to all the clauses of the embargo that are still in force.
Obama’s trip to Havana marks a new journey in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Fidel and the revolution are still there. An American president of African ancestry had the courage to change his country’s policy. A dozen of his predecessors, from Dwight Eisenhower on, failed to defeat the first Latin American socialist revolution.
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