Months before March 20, 2016, Old Havana was becoming a city cleansed of anti-U.S. graffiti. Not even a hint of the classic “Yanqui, go home” was present. Now the stars and stripes hung waving from ancient balconies. Apart from that, people continue eating rice and beans and frequenting the rundown markets. The awaited day has arrived, at exactly the expected time, under a premonitory shower of spring rain, Air Force One lands at José Martí International Airport. Representatives of the empire plainly descend: the grandmother, Marian Shields Robinson, mother Michelle, two fine young ladies, Malia and Sasha, and Barack Obama himself. In front of this elaborate reception, with all the growing familiarity of 80 years of absence, the president threw out a “What’s up, Cuba?” as if to say, “Come on, I’m not the boogeyman.”
Meanwhile, in the old city and in front of hundreds of cameras, as they have been for a decade, a few ladies dressed in white protest – not against the visitors, but against the regime that does not allow them freedom of dissent. And, as always, they are reprimanded by police (female guards this time). Camouflaged in the background behind them are armed civil agents. The women in white are frightened, repressed, and their skirts are raised higher than what’s permitted by revolutionary modesty. In the face of such revolutionary modesty and in front of the cameras, the powers that be prudently adjust the women’s clothing and proceed to handcuff them to railings. In other areas, freethinkers are arrested and taken to cells. International journalists will later complain to the great commander. He’ll show his usual compassion: “Tell me the names of those arrested and they’ll immediately be set free.” Later, the visitor will tell him: “You should not fear the different voices of the Cuban people.”
Up to here, the story is anecdotal. Over there, the other story emerges, the transcendent story, the story of reconciliation between Cuba and the United States, the story of the end of an era that promised the recovery of paradise lost to the blunders of two governments and two systems.
It was a laborious approach, during which, for decades, not only did representatives of each of the antagonistic positions participate, but also world leaders who mediated in order to foster reconciliation. Without any doubt, the Catholic Church played a prevailing role in the thaw. The pope’s visits to both countries are testimony to this. The president’s visit to Cuba demands implementation of participatory democracy on the island. “Voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections,” said President Obama; and not have governments by dynastic or sectarian succession. A democracy lead by Cubans, he said, will create and reimagine a government that permits “dreaming.” Directly addressing Raúl Castro, Obama assured him, “You should not fear new threats from the U.S. to your promise of sovereignty and self-determination.”*
This affirmation, in my opinion, is the fundamental fact that allows us to see the end of one era and the start of another, as long as it’s admitted with absolute clarity that the U.S. had interventionist policies in the past which not only created space between the people, but also put world peace at risk. What was expressed by Obama is a promise to humanity. Castro smiled and clapped, maybe thinking about loose ends that still need to be tied up: blockades, the closing of Guantanamo, and other small things that large corporations will be in charge of resolving.
*Editor’s note: Some of President Obama’s quoted remarks used by the author in this article were not exact statements by the president, but combined some of the president’s comments. The president’s statements were accurately translated and have been verified in a transcript issued by the White House press office.