On February 18, 2016 U.S. President Barack Obama announced he would visit Cuba in March. His visit to Cuba will be the first for a sitting U.S. president in almost 90 years, the last sitting U.S president to visit was Calvin Coolidge in 1928. That said, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter visited Cuba in 2011 and 2002 – highlights from his trips included condemning the U.S. blockade on Cuba and playing baseball with Fidel Castro.
However, Obama’s visit to Cuba will be something noted in future history books. An important step after the reestablishment of formal diplomatic ties between Cuba and the U.S. On February 18, Obama sent five tweets about his visit: First, "14 months ago, I announced that we would begin normalizing relations with Cuba - and we've already made significant progress." Second, "Our flag flies over our Embassy in Havana once again. More Americans are travelling to Cuba than at any time in the last 50 years." Third, "We still have differences with the Cuban government that I will raise directly. America will always stand for human rights around the world." Fourth, "Next month, I'll travel to Cuba to advance our progress and efforts that can improve the lives of the Cuban people." Fifth, "Here's how we're looking at the road ahead: http://go.wh.gov/4b4M4z
The link in Obama's final tweet is to an article written by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, titled, "President Obama is going to Cuba. Here’s why”. In the article Ben Rhodes claims that the goals of the U.S. president’s visit are quite simple, “As the President has said, Cuba will not change overnight, nor will all of the various differences between our countries go away. But the guiding principle of our Cuba policy—our North Star—remains taking steps that will improve the lives of the Cuban people.”
Cuba Responds to U.S. President’s planned visit
On February 18, Josefina Vidal, the general director for U.S. affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry held a press conference where she explained Cuba’s position on the visit: “The president will be welcomed by the Government of Cuba and its people, with the hospitality that characterizes us. It will be an opportunity for President Obama to see the Cuban reality and continue our exchange about the possibilities of expanding our bilateral dialogue and cooperation on issues of mutual interest to both countries. […] Of course, to reach the normalization of these bilateral relations key outstanding issues, including the lifting of the blockade and the return of the territory illegally occupied by the U.S. Guantanamo Naval Base would need to be resolved.”
So both Cuba and the United States have put forward their goals for this visit. On the surface they do not seem contradictory. It seems obvious that the U.S. lifting its trade embargo or blockade on Cuba would “improve the lives of the Cuban people” as would the U.S. dismantling its criminal prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and leaving the Cuban territory for good. However, when the U.S. government says “improve the lives of the Cuban people” it actually means “regime change” and bringing back capitalism to Cuba.
However, on the surface at least, the United States government is talking about Cuba in more rational terms than it has in over 50 years since the revolution in 1959. But of course, the United States government, including Obama, are very hostile to Cuba and the gains of the Cuban revolution, but the tone of debate and discussion is in full diplomacy mode.
The Mainstream Media goes wild!
Interestingly, the case is quite the opposite in the mainstream media. In this article I will especially highlight an article published after Obama’s announcement in the media in Canada. The article, titled, "Why is Obama visiting Cuba?" was published in the Globe & Mail on February 25, 2016, written by Konrad Yakabuski. This article tried to answer the question in its title, however everything the author brought was less about answering the question and more about slandering Cuba and Obama in equal parts. Its basic argument being that Obama should not go to Cuba.
However, there have been other disturbingly conservative and slanderous articles published in the mainstream bourgeois media in Canada. Including, "Obama’s Cuba visit could mean the end for the Castro brothers Cold War dynasty" printed in the National Post on February 22, written by David Blair, Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Daily Telegraph UK, and "How Cuba was destroyed" by Patrick Luciani for the Financial Post on March 1 – the answer to its title being apparently that the revolution already destroyed Cuba, so Obama probably cannot make it any worse!
It is interesting that the idea of whether or not Obama should go to Cuba is being so hotly debated by the media in Canada. It should be a no brainer that this is a positive step, especially for the U.S. which routinely refuses to dialogue and/or negotiate, and instead prefers sanctions, hostility, plunder, sabotage and war. At the same time, Canada has diplomatic relations with Cuba, in fact Canada and Cuba celebrated 70 years of unbroken diplomatic ties in 2015. Canada’s diplomatic relations with Cuba have not been because Canada believes in the Cuba revolution, but instead a relationship which has economically benefited Canada. Maybe these journalists are afraid better U.S/Cuba relations will harm Canada’s economic relations with Cuba?
The Globe & Mail Newspaper asks, “Why is Obama visiting Cuba?”
While I encourage those who enjoy a good and critical chuckle to read the full articles, I will just be highlighting and rebutting some Mr. Yakabuski’s largest flaws from his quandary "Why is Obama visiting Cuba?"
Journalist Konrad Yakabuski’s reasoning that Obama should not go to Cuba is based in the following logic:
First, Cuba has not made enough changes or given enough “freedoms” to its people to merit a visit from the president of the “free world” Mr. Obama.
Second, Cuba has a “human rights” problem that they need to work on.
Third, Obama is not strong enough to give the Cubans an ultimatum, which is what they need according to the journalist… what exactly Obama is supposed to threaten them with is not explained.
But I have to ask Mr. Yakabuski, what is your definition of “freedoms”? The U.S. government has not allowed Americans to travel “freely” to Cuba for the last 50 years. Still today Americans cannot go to Cuba as tourists, they have to get a special educational license, or other similar special permissions, otherwise their trip could be deemed ‘illegal’ and they could be fined.
Or did you mean to talk about “democratic freedoms”? Did you know that the last election for the Cuban parliament was held in 2013, and over 7.8 million Cubans went to the polls and voted? In fact, those Cuban elections had a 90.8% voter turnout rate. Of the ballots cast, 94% were valid, 1% were spoiled ballots and 5% were blank. While in Canada's 2015 federal election we had the highest voter turnout rate in 2 decades! And you know what the percentage was? 68.3%. The U.S. voter turnout was about 58% for the 2012 presidential election. So it seems Cubans are actually more interested than Canadians and Americans in what this whole 'democratic freedom' thing has to offer – not because they want to overthrow their system – but instead because they want to participate in it!
Let’s also ask who can participate in these “freedoms”? In Cuba, election campaigns do not require any money. Indeed, the only campaigning allowed in Cuba is the publication of each candidate’s official biography. This outlines the history and character of each candidate and is put up around the neighbourhood as a small, but visible poster. This means that Cubans do not need money run in the elections. Also while the governments of the United States and Canada accuse Cuba of being undemocratic because they have a single party political system, you do not need to be a member of the Communist Party of Cuba to run in elections, candidates are nominated at grassroots neighbourhood based meetings.
This again is in stark contrast to what we have been told are real “democratic freedoms” in the U.S. Two behemoth political parties who keep pushing candidates from the same familial lines, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Clintons sometimes it seems more like a constitutional monarchy. According to a New York Times article from February 22, 2016 titled, "Which Presidential Candidates Are Winning the Money Race." Hillary Clinton has spent $97.5 million so far on her campaign (she is the “winner” of the “money race”), Jeb Bush spent $30.6 million before dropping out, Bernie Sanders has spent $81.6 million and Donald Trump has spent $23.9 million. You thought my monarchy statement was a joke, but really who are these people if not representatives of the U.S. ruling capitalist class?
Of course Canada has similar issues. Justin Trudeau (also from Canadian political ‘royalty’) spent $40 million on his 2015 election campaign, while the defeated Conservative party spent around $50 million, unlike the U.S. Canada had a cap on campaign spending - $54 million. How many people in Canada and the United States can really afford to participate and get anywhere with these kinds of extremely costly “democratic freedoms”?
We can also compare the fact that Cuba is sending doctors and educators around the world to provide free health care and literacy to rural and remote communities, providing foreign nations with the human right to be healthy and educated. While the United States, might still enjoy a ‘relatively high standard of living’ (which I realise for much of the 99% in the United States is more illusion than reality) this standard is based off of the exploitation and pillaging of the developing world. Outside its own borders the “human rights” brought by the United States are the human right to pollution and exploitation, the human right to be spied on, the human right to have your lands occupied by a foreign military, and the human right to be extra-judicially killed by drone strikes… I think I might have mixed up the meaning of ‘human rights’ for those last 4 examples. What human rights work have Obama and the U.S. government done again? Mr. Yakabuski forgot to explain. This is without even bringing up all of the human rights abuses happening within the United States’ own borders.
However, Mr. Yakabuski’s most important “arguments” come towards the end of his article. He writes, “If anything, Mr. Obama risks enhancing their [Raul & Fidel Castro] legitimacy and strengthening their grip on the island’s economy. The Cuban military, also headed by Raul Castro, controls most of the economy (including its burgeoning tourist industry) and stands to benefit the most from increased U.S. trade and investment.” Basically he is saying that Obama’s visit may legitimize the Cuban government – it is unclear if not meeting with the Cuban government would help delegitimizes it? While Yakabuski tries to live in a fantasy world where the Cuban government is isolated, Cuba has diplomatic or consular relations with 187 countries and States around the world. In October 2015 at the United Nations General Assembly, 191 countries voted alongside Cuba for the United States to end its immoral and unjust blockade against Cuba, only two countries voted to maintain the blockade (U.S. & Israel). Who really needs legitimacy on the world stage Mr. Yakabuski?
Related to his comment about the Cuban military controlling Cuba’s economy and “burgeoning tourist industry” the over 1.2 million Canadians who travel to Cuba every year (that’s about 1 in 30 people in Canada) read that and raised a collective eyebrow. None of us have seen tanks rolling down Cuban streets as they do in countless other countries. None of us have seen heavily armed police at check points in Cuba like you might in Mexico, or Israel or countless other countries around the world. Police in the U.S. and Canada are much more intimidating than any Cuban police officer I have ever seen (considering I have travelled to Cuba 15 times). Everyone I have spoken to who has travelled extensively in developing countries around the world and then to Cuba is shocked by the lack of police and military presence, whose heavily armed presence is used in capitalist countries around the world to keep the poor and oppressed in their place.
Yakabuski continues, “Supporters of Mr. Obama’s approach argue that human-rights violations and political repression have not stopped the United States from pursuing economic and diplomatic relations with China. So why apply a tougher standard to Cuba, especially when the United States continues to indefinitely detain and deprive of due process dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay? The answer is that Cuba is in North America’s backyard and the Castros head the longest-running dictatorship in the Western hemisphere. Their brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them.” The only logic I can understand here is that Yakabuski is saying that from his point of view, the lives of the Chinese people living under his definition of “human-rights violations and political repression” have lives that are less valuable than those living in Cuba because Cuba is closer geographically to the United States? I thought the point of HUMAN rights is that they belong to everyone Mr. Yakabuski?
In fact, while he argues that “Their [Fidel & Raul Castro’s] brutality is well documented, in spite of the romanticism with which Canadians often view them,” I could use this exact same quote to discuss the United States. The U.S. military and government’s brutality is “well-documented” too, despite many Canadians wanting to go along with the United States “greatest country in the world” motto. Mr. Yakabuski is correct that violations of human rights in Guantanamo are one point of argument. However, it is not a blip or an exception in the United States otherwise clean record. Torture at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, stinks of the same stories we heard about Iraqi and Afghan prisons under their occupation. But the well documented brutality of the U.S. does not end there. Propping up brutal regimes, like the one in Saudi Arabia; letting poisoned water run out of the taps in Flint, Michigan; a for-profit health care system and prison system that are both making millions off of the misery of poor and working Americans; making citizens pay for water; police brutally and murder that goes unpunished, especially against young people of colour – are these not violations of human rights? Are these not well documented records of brutality? If anything I think Cuba should be weary of letting Barack Obama come for a visit, not the other way around.
The real issues at stake for this visit…
Is the visit of Obama a win for the Cuban government? Yes. But it is a double edged sword for the Cuban people and government. While this opening with the U.S. government brings many new possibilities economically and in terms of development, we know how the U.S. uses its power around the world. I could take this article to warn Cuba about creeping U.S. intervention, about the threat the U.S. has posed for so many years, but that would be condescending towards Cuba. They already know better than all of us. Reading and listening to Josefina Vidal speak about Obama’s visit demonstrates how deeply and wisely the Cuban leadership is aware of this process.
On March 4, 2016 the Obama administration extended the order declaring Venezuela a “national security threat” to the United States. This is despite the fact that in an April 2015 interview with EFE, U.S. President Obama himself said, "We do not believe that Venezuela poses a threat to the United States, nor does the United States threaten the Venezuelan government." However, the blatant contradiction does not concern Obama, because declaring this sort of ‘state of emergency’ gives the U.S. government more power to place sanctions on Venezuela or support Venezuelan right-wing opposition groups.
On March 4, Cuba did not hesitate, in the afternoon after Obama’s announcement on Venezuela, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX) released a statement against U.S. aggression towards Venezuela and defending the people of Venezuela and their sovereignty. Cuba was not the only defender of Venezuela, again the U.S. was isolated by its self-contradictory stance when both the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) came out swinging with their own statements against Obama and the United States’ declaration.
To me this demonstrates one point that Mr. Yakabuski’s article “Why is Obama visiting Cuba?” was correct on. Cuba has not made any major changes, Cuba has not given up anything to re-establish formal diplomatic ties with the United States. Their revolutionary socialist government and revolutionary people remain vigilant against U.S. aggression and attempts at re-establishing its hegemony over Cuba and the rest of Latin America. Cuba will not stop speaking truth to power because it wants Obama’s visit to go smoothly. However, where I again disagree with Mr. Yakabuski is that Cuba should not have to change for the United States. It is the United States that has a farce of a democracy, not Cuba. It is the United States that is violating Human Rights within its own borders and around the world, not Cuba. It is the U.S. that is isolated on the world stage, not Cuba. Cuba, unlike the U.S., is not exporting soldiers, tanks and bombs, but instead sends doctors, nurses and teachers.
So when Mr. Yakabuski concluded his article with the statement, “The world does not need more (of the Castros’) Cuba.” I turn around and say confidently, actually the world does need more of the Castros’ Cuba. A small developing country standing up, as David did against Goliath, speaking truth to power and demanding justice for itself and the rest of the world. In fact, this is what scares Mr. Yakabuski, the humanity of Cuban socialism. As the great Cuban poetry and revoutionary Jose Marti said: “Patria es Humanidad”- Humanity is my Homeland.
Follow Tamara Hansen on Twitter: @THans01
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