One cannot fail to admire how easy it was to call a seemingly distant, remote and impossible event “historic.”
Such was the case with the meeting between President Barack Obama and President Raúl Castro in Panama, a few months after it was announced that both countries were interested in normalizing diplomatic relations, which have been severed for more than half a century since the height of the Cold War.
No one thought that repairing the damage would be easy, but the gesture made in December set new forces in motion in favor of the agreement, knowing full well that there is a long way to go and that many are opposed to a mutually satisfactory solution. Those who were surprised at the time include many of those who never believed that dialogue was the way to leave behind the road of permanent confrontation between two countries with extremely varying degrees of presence throughout the continent. Standing in line were: skeptics who had endlessly called for Cuba to yield to the ideals of the empire, accepting the tenets of a history-less society as principles; advocates of the latest democratic prescriptions that Washington has endorsed as universal formulae; and the usual troublemakers, murderers and mercenaries that took to Panama to ensure that we do not forget which side terror comes from – the very people who asked for Obama's head so as to prevent the U.S. from changing in any way. Too late. Raúl Castro and Obama demonstrated their sensitivity to understanding that today’s world requires new strategies as the challenges and threats are very different to those of the past.
There was no need to leave the summit assembly hall to confirm that the continent's reality had changed drastically since the last meeting. For the first time, criticism arising from the plurality of positions set the tone for the presidential addresses. No one was compelled to remain silent. Despite the ongoing disputes, discussion focused on Big Stick Pan-Americanism, which is a source of concern for the U.S. Republican Party, as is the rapprochement with Iran – the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy restructuring.
It is thus no surprise that prudence, the virtue of political intelligence, dominated the public statements delivered by both Obama and Raúl. The damage would not be forgotten. “We are willing to discuss everything, but we need to be patient, very patient,” said Castro. “We might disagree on something today on which we could agree tomorrow.” However, neither Raúl nor Obama passed up an opportunity to underscore the scope of the meeting. Obama stated that the Cold War ended a long time ago. The press confirmed that the United States “is now in a position to move on a path toward the future.”
They know better than anyone else how many “normalization” attempts fell by the wayside upon clashing with the inflexibility of the State Department, which is incapable of viewing the act of stonewalling Cuba as a serious historical mistake born of its own imperial vision. The Cuban president was right to not associate his colleague with said tradition, which constitutes the basis of the need for rectification. I made an allusion to this in a passage in my book “La izquierda que viví” (“My Experience of the Left”), in which I review the nature of America's grave mistake about Cuba, saying that (and I am quoting to avoid repeating myself) elite U.S. leaders “viewed the Fidelist political revolution through the media representation they themselves had created to protect their interests, which showed them a leadership change-over, without realizing that it was something else. And they were wrong for not considering that the victory over dictatorship was the beginning of a national revolution, long-delayed by North American intervention, for which full compliance depends on the implementation of a social reform program capable of transforming power relations within Cuban society. Failing to understand this with sufficient objectivity by unashamedly overstating the threats in its own backyard is perhaps the first and biggest mistake made by the United States, but also the most persistent and painful for the people of Cuba. This dogmatic and inflexible lack of insight explains the persistent nature of stonewalling Cuba; the perpetuity of a situation that, in the absence of other consequences, damages the untouchable pride of a surviving power. Said ‘error,’ if we can call it that, became even more dreadful following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the destruction of the Socialist Bloc. The revolution period thus shows that this island, in spite of all its current problems, was not a Soviet chess piece in a game between superpowers, as imperial strategists always believed it to be, along with a few critics that were perhaps confused by their own dogmatic prescriptions. However, with an aversion to any changes not made on a purely formal basis, the United States revised its concerns and placed Cuba on the terrorism blacklist.”
Some rapprochement critics are content with stating that no one has won as of yet, without acknowledging the great conquest of the Cuban 20th century, namely that of establishing Cuba as a national state worthy of such a name for the first time, and upholding this under the strongest pressures from an infinitely stronger enemy. It is not far-fetched to say that the words “sovereignty” and “independence” stopped playing a part in former Republican rhetoric, so that only after 1959 could they become something tangible for a people that had regained the profound sense of dignity. I recently wrote that this is quite something. I now stand by this.