in over half a century. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro addressed the media together, and then held an hour-long meeting behind closed doors.
What the two Presidents said before they went into the conclave showed what they intended to do:
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: “This is obviously a historic meeting. The history between the United States and Cuba is obviously complicated, and over the years, a lot of mistrust has developed. But during the course of the last several months, there have been contacts between the US. and the Cuban government. And in December , as a consequence of some of the groundwork that had been laid, both myself and President Castro announced a significant change in policy and the relationship between our two governments.
“…After 50 years of policy that had not changed on the part of the United States, it was my belief that it was time to try something new…. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future, and leave behind some of the circumstances of the past that have made it so difficult…. for our countries to communicate. Already we’ve seen majorities of the American people and the Cuban people respond positively to this change. And I truly believe that as more exchanges take place, more commerce and interactions resume between the United States and Cuba, …
“Now, obviously, there are still going to be deep and significant differences between our two governments. We will continue to try to lift up concerns around democracy and human rights. And as you heard from President Castro’s passionate speech this morning, they will lift up concerns about US. policy as well. But I think what we have both concluded is that we can disagree with the spirit of respect and civility, and that over time, it is possible for us to turn the page and develop a new relationship in our two countries. And some of our immediate tasks include normalizing diplomatic relations and ultimately opening an embassy in Havana, and Cuba being able to open an embassy in Washington, D.C. so that our diplomats are able to interact on a more regular basis.
Replying, PRESIDENT RAUL CASTRO: (As interpreted.) “Well, Mr. President, friends from the press, we have been making long speeches and listening to many long speeches too, so I do not want to abuse the time of President Obama or your time.
I think that what President Obama has just said, it’s practically the same as we feel about the topics, including human rights, freedom of the press… Everything can be on the table. I think that we can do it, as President Obama has just said, with respect for the ideas of the other. We could be persuaded of some things; of others, we might not be persuaded. But when I say that I agree with everything that the President has just said, I include that we have agreed to disagree. No one should entertain illusions. It is true that we have many differences. Our countries have a long and complicated history, but we are willing to make progress in the way the President has described….. We shall open our embassies. We shall visit each other, [and take part in] exchanges, people to people. And all that matters is what those neighbours can do.
“So we are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient — very patient… The pace of life at the present moment in the world,] is very fast. We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow. And we hope that our closest assistants … will follow the instructions of both Presidents. Thank you so much.”
Wow! At last, mature exchanges, instead of murderous darts – in the form of both deeds and words– hurled at each other. In the past, the US tried to poison Raul Castro’s elder brother, Fidel, with poisonous cigars, poisonous toothpaste, deliberately defective diving equipment, and many other instruments of assassination. Even a full invasion of Cuba was attempted – at the Bay of Pigs in 1961. All failed. Cuba, in its turn, allowed the Soviet Union to instal nuclear missiles on Cuban territory, creating 13 days of the worst-ever crisis that the world had ever seen. Had good sense not eventually prevailed, none of us would be here today but would have been turned to ashes by thermonuclear war.
Thankfully, Fidel Castro, hero of the Cuban and Latin American peoples, as well as of the African victims of apartheid (Angola was the target of full-scale military attacks for years by apartheid South Africa and its minions) is also alive and in relatively good health. He knows that a rapprochement is taking place between Cuba and the US, and he does not appear to be opposing it.
The most important actions that need to be taken to fully cement the new era in relations between the US and Cuba, are that the trade embargo that the US has been enforcing on Cuba to be lifted, and that US classification of Cuba as a “terrorist” country is rescinded. Cuba’s leaders, in their turn, must realise that if the US is no longer to be hostile towards Cuba, then there is absolutely no point in restricting freedom of speech and of the media in Cuba. Other resented authoritarian measures – such as the stringent control of the Internet, and restrictions on foreign travel – also need to go. These and other new freedoms would enable the Cuban people to obtain, at a relatively cheap price, the consumer goods they have been denied for over 50 years, and which are to be exported to them from only 90 miles away. (Miami, Florida, in the US, is only 90 miles from Cuba’s shores!)
Truly, the people of Cuba have held out – extremely loyally – against very harsh economic realities for over 50 years. They now deserve to be rewarded with prosperity. Prosperity that comes with from well-patronised enterprises in tourism; prosperity created by cleverly-supervised direct foreign investment; and, above all, prosperity from the unrestricted exportation of the product that comes from the creative hands and minds of the Cuban people themselves. Their sugar plantations need to be reinvigorated, as do their cigar-manufacturing factories. The opening of US markets to both would serve as the lasting legacy left to the Cuban people by the Castro brothers.
President Obama deserves tremendous credit for recognising that the ideological predilections that created the hostility between Cuba and the US belong to an era that had better be forgotten – the era that led Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan to consider themselves as ordained from on high to dictate the political future of Latin American countries about which they knew very little and cared very little about, except in ideological terms – countries such as Chile and Nicaragua.
And while soaking in the praises that will arise from his action on Cuba, President Obama might well reflect that had the American leaders of the Cold War era had access to drones – as Obama does – there would have been no Raul Castro left on earth to express his regrets in Panama City over the way that Obama had been held responsible for American policies towards Cuba that were effected when Obama had not even been born.
Maybe Obama will be just subtle enough fully to appreciate the irony of the situation, and use it to extricate himself from his heinous drone policy, which is doing nothing but creating implacable enemies for the US in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere in Muslim lands.