President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba is over. The three days of activities, meetings and speeches served to highlight that the reopening initiated by the U.S. President is being well received and that he apparently is very popular among Cubans. The expectations were not high, but we hope that the message will last well into the future.
The U.S. embargo captured much of the attention as Cuban leader Raúl Castro blamed it for the island’s economical difficulties and Obama supported lifting it. This was a futile discussion since both wish for the same outcome but none can change the present situation, which is in the hands of the Republican-led Congress, which dislikes the opening.
But Obama and Castro did differ about civil liberties. The Cuban leader’s annoyance when asked by journalists about political prisoners revealed the arrogance of the dictator not used to being questioned. Soon after Castro challenged journalists to give the names of detainees to release them, many detailed lists popped up on the internet. Maybe Castro did not even realize about them, since such a thing would not fit in his worldview.
Another thing that probably Castro didn’t like was Obama’s challenge to the Cuban youth to take their destiny into their own hands. The statesman’s message was everything you could hope for in a first visit of an American president in Cuba. And nobody better than Obama, with his personal story, to explain that free societies offer the possibility of personal growth. Who better than him, a Chicago social activist, to recognize the problem of those human rights that Castro denounced were absent in the U.S., and to point out that at least there is the freedom to protest, organize and try to change the bad for something better, in contrast with the Cuban system.
With the reopening of relations with the U.S., Castro is hoping for an economic rescue that will bring new investments and tourism. However, Obama’s visit showed how obsolete is the regime and its leaders, who long ago betrayed the values of the Cuban Revolution to hold on to power in a military dictatorship.
Obama’s challenge to Cubans is not to fear freedom, and for their leaders it is to trust their people.