With less than a year until the end of his presidency, Barack Obama continues to add to his political legacy. He could make his chapter in Cuba the most successful, if not the easiest to write, given that in Florida, it so happens that the Cuban electorate has slowly but surely accepted the idea that the time has come to restore relations with Havana.
Barack Obama did not go to greet old Fidel during his “historic” visit to Cuba, which would have been surprising. Instead, he made an exceptional gesture, that of talking for nearly two hours at the recently reopened U.S. embassy with a dozen prominent dissidents, which “even the popes” never dared to do, said the independent journalist Miriam Leiva, who is also one of the founders of the Ladies in White – an opposition movement bringing together the wives of political prisoners.
Without a doubt, that's where the U.S. president's visit focuses, or at least that's where the White House's bet is when it comes to the Castro regime, which we have known for 65 years: The bet that the end of the government-controlled state in which the United States wanted to hold back the revolution will inevitably contribute to widen, through agreement, the scope of freedom and civil rights of the people. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas," Mr. Obama said in the speech that he gave at Gran Teatro. It is not about normalization with a regime, but with the people.
Let's not be naive. Havana's mistrust of Washington remains and will remain deep. But it remains that the re-establishment of bilateral relations, and the eventual lifting of the commercial embargo – which depends on the American Congress's goodwill – will be very useful for the perpetuation of the Cuban dominant class. The people for whom Obama has come to provide more freedom do not have any illusion about this chapter in history. Tourism, communications, real estate market… In the “ruined state” which is the economy of the island, the “military footprint” is everywhere in the paying sectors, recently wrote blogger Miriam Celaya on Cubanet, who was among the group of opponents to have met with the American president at the beginning of the week. It's self-evident: The thaw will open the dams of the Cuban market to the Americans, which already started to open [with] the surprise announcement of the reconciliation, in December 2014.
It will be understood, in fact, that the same strategy – promotion of commercial interests under convenient cover of the defense of human rights – was applied in the re-establishment, three years ago, of U.S. relations and other Western countries with far Myanmar, where the military caste continues to hold power in spite of recent, and amazing, electoral victory of the National League for Democracy of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Certainly, the Republicans are wrong to criticize president Obama for having restored the bridges with the Castro regime, with the pretext that his administration did not make enough demand as far as political freedom is concerned. It happened really fast, as if the long years during which former Republican presidents gave their support to military dictatorships in Latin America and their ferocious oppression of leftist opposition never happened. We can't say, however, that the United States was by definition an agent of social and economic justice in the contemporary history of the world. For ordinary Cubans, it's far from over. But it is still possible to think that just geographical and cultural proximity of the island with the continent will necessarily result in faster social and economic changes.
Or is it possible that Cuba is destined to simply become an extension of the state of Florida?
The genesis of these transformations has just begun. A genesis from which Canada is curiously absent. To never have broken its relations with Havana, Canada enjoys a presence in Cuba that only Mexico enjoys. However, Ottawa stands back from these new developments, Mark Entwistle – former Canadian ambassador in Cuba – noted recently. Canada would obviously benefit from participating. For Justin Trudeau, there will be a life after Barack Obama.