Havana – Waiting for Air Force One
Havana: Waiting for Air Force One / Iván García
Posted on March 6, 2016
Ivan Garcia, 22 February 2016 — If Barack Obama’s plan was to enhance
the US influence in Cuba, he has made some gains. If his plan involves
the use of a stealthy Trojan horse to bring in the internet, commerce
and dollars to overturn the government of the Castro brothers and open
doors to democracy, he will have to wait some time to see if his
strategy was effective.
The military dictatorship and several thousands of its followers look
upon the imperialist policies of the north with disgust, though they
accept and even applaud similar strategies carried out by Russia as well
as the nuclear deliria of a hooligan state like North Korea.
People — those who have one hot meal a day and for whom breakfast is
only coffee — often have an idyllic vision of the neighbor to the north.
There are many among them who insist Fidel Castro’s speeches condemning
Yankee imperialism have had a boomerang effect. But the affection Cubans
feel towards Americans goes way back.
Though there were those like Jose Marti, who warned of the danger of
nascent imperialism, Cuban independence leaders almost without exception
idolized the American revolution as a social and economic model.
The considerable influence of the White House — with its meddlesome and
clumsy policies — during the years of the Cuban republic was not enough
to erode the favorable opinion of a majority of the public towards the
In January 1959, 70% of large estates, sugar mills and small businesses
were locally owned. The island imported the latest American
technological innovations almost as soon as they left the testing lab,
including automobiles and color televisions. It even experienced a
facsimile of satellite transmission when the Major League World series
was broadcast with the aid of a commercial airliner.
Cuba was not a province of the United States, as the regime would have
us believe. The value of the peso, the national currency, was at parity
with the dollar and Havana was among the most modern and efficient
cities in Latin American. Let me not dwell on the disaster wrought on
the economy by the brothers Castro.
The breakdown and chaos also impacted social, aesthetic and ideological
spheres. The Castro regime switched sides and became an important player
in the Cold War, acting as a communist ally.
Cuba served as a training base for Latin American guerrillas and Fidel
Castro intervened in civil wars in Angola and Ethiopia. He has the
undeniable distinction of having won over intellectuals and colonized
countries in the region without firing a shot.
It is unprecedented in world history for a nation with no navy, an army
in shambles and a third the inhabitants and gross domestic product of
Venezuela, to play a key role in that country’s affairs. Or to be a
significant player in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. Or to act as a key
negotiator in ending a war that has gone on for more than half a century
The Cuban revolution has always been always more about politics than
economics. The nation’s streets, infrastructure and buildings are
literally in ruins but on the international stage Raul Castro enjoys
success after success.
Without offering anything in exchange, Castro II has managed to get
western nations to overlook a large portion of Cuba’s foreign debt by
promising future business opportunities while foregoing democratic change.
The icing on the cake came on 17 December 2014 after a year and a half
of secret negotiations. One can disagree with his political beliefs
but Obama is right when he says that, after fifty years, US policy
towards Cuba has failed.
Although some dissidents, the government and many ordinary Cubans either
blame or thank the White House for the new scenario, the national debate
should be focused on other things.
The country’s economic, social and political disasters are issues for
Cubans. The United States is looking out for its own interests. It is up
to Cubans to identify and resolve our own problems. But I understand why
a segment of the dissident community feels deceived and disillusioned
and our citizens are packing their bags, ready to emigrate.
Cuba’s press and political system are not designed to accommodate
conflicting opinions. The adversary is not America, much less Obama. The
enemy is the pathological entrenchment of the Cuban government towards
It is good that economic doors are being opened and I hope Obama lifts
the embargo. But I have a sense that neither one nor the other will
improve the quality of life or democratize Cuban society.
The news of Obama’s visit to Cuba on March 21 and 22 sparked conflicting
views, ranging from magical realist thinking and exaggerated expectation
to sober analysis.
The visit is only a month away but, in discussions on the street,
opinions seem to have more to do with folklore rather than its
historical significance. Many Cubans speak of Obama with familiarity, as
though he were someone from the neighborhood.
Now, especially in Havana, you see more American flags on balconies and
antiquated taxis than ever before. Men and women of all ages are wearing
clothes with the stars and stripes. And doctored photos of Obama smoking
a Cuban cigar and sporting a khaki baseball cap are for sale.
People are not expecting miracles and many imagine a welcoming ceremony
befitting a rock star. Perhaps this way of looking at things is positive
in a world where politicians live in another dimension. But the banality
that often generates headlines will not be the master key that unlocks
the Cuban maze.
For young people the novelty will be watching the presidential
limousine, known as The Beast, making its way through the streets of
Havana and Secret Service agents running alongside the motorcade in
their usual display.
It is what they have seen in Hollywood movies. To them Obama’s sensible
proposals are background noise. Dissidents see it very differently. In
Cuba there is an Obama for everyone.
In spite of their differing opinions, Cubans are counting the days until
they can watch newscasts of Air Force One landing in Havana.
Originally published in Diario de las Americas, February 22, 2016
Source: Havana: Waiting for Air Force One / Iván García | Translating