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    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
    United States.

    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
    in Colombia.

    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
    its people.

    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.

    Ivan Garcia

    Originally published in Diario de las Americas, February 22, 2016

    Source: Havana: Waiting for Air Force One / Iván García | Translating
    Cuba –