Monday, May 12, 2008

“President Obama” headed for Cuba, or so claims “the press” out of Trinidad

Reading “the press” from outside the United States is always a unique experience, as I can never figure out whether these accounts exist in some “bizarro world” or whether we are the backwards universe and these accounts somehow see the logic (or lack thereof) in our policy.

Take the “Trinidad Express,” which on Sunday ran a piece of news analysis that has “President Obama” already planning his first official visit to Cuba, where he would meet with Fidel Castro’s baby brother, Raul (he’s 76).

WHILE THE CAMPAIGN of Hillary Clinton is trying to push the idea that Obama cannot win a general election (one of her fans e-mailed me a URL of a website that predicts Obama would only get 265 electoral votes – 5 short of the number needed for victory), the Express says it is, “increasingly evident that Barack Obama is… set to emerge in November as the first Black American President.”

They then dredged up Obama quotations from his debate against Clinton in Texas – the one that was supposed to include a heavy dose of “Hispanic” issues and where Obama said he’d like it if he could meet with Cuba’s leaders. (For those who don’t remember, Hillary said she’d like to meet with Castro too, but she has conditions that must be met before she’s willing to have Air Force One fly to Havana).

Now admittedly, a newspaper from a nation in the Caribbean is going to have a special interest in promoting the idea of U.S./Cuba relations being restored to where they were prior to the Castro revolution of the 1950s.

The Caribbean islands tend to identify with each other, even if they are not all former Spanish colonies. To them, the idea that one island (Cuba) is somehow excluded by the United States seems ludicrous.

SO MOST OF their “analysis” was really a chance to take some pot shots at incumbent President George W. Bush (who was probably more concerned Sunday with the cleanup following daughter Jenna’s wedding than with anything published in Trinidad) for comments he has made in recent weeks related to Cuba.

They are more than willing to write puff pieces about the, “young, charismatic senator from Illinois (who) becomes the new tenant in the White House in January 2009,” as part of their way of reminding people that Bush is on his way out after this year.

Changes have been taking place in Cuba in recent weeks, although most are of the superficial type to create the illusion of a country that is opening itself to the rest of the world.

Regular Cuban citizens (not just loyal government officials) can now buy cell phones and computers and have access to the Internet – provided they can afford such luxuries on their miniscule incomes (it’s not like the Cuban government deems Internet access something to be provided by the state free of charge to the people).

BUSH, DURING A gathering of the Council of the Americas, called the Cuban changes, “empty gestures,” and said the Cuban government is still, “the same group that has oppressed (the Cuban people) for half a century.”

To which the "Trinidad Express" reminded us of the indignities imposed on Muslim prisoners held by the U.S. military at the base on Guantánamo Bay – the one portion of the Cuban island to which the United States still has some control.

Now regardless of what one thinks of Cuba, common sense dictates that the U.S. status quo (a complete embargo that cuts off the Cuba market to U.S. business interests) will have to come to an end some day.

When one realizes that Fidel Castro is finally retired and that Raul is not going to live forever, U.S. officials ought to be preparing for the day when gestures are made to try to restore ties to the nation whose primary city of Havana is only about 120 miles from Miami (just a little bit further than the distance between Chicago and Milwaukee).

IT WAS IN that context that I thought Obama made some sense when, during the presidential debate in Austin, Texas, he said we need to think forward, rather than come up with conditions that must be met by Cuba.

“The moment when Fidel Castro steps down is one we should take advantage of,” Obama said. “We must talk to our friends and to our enemies. That is diplomacy.”

It was in that very sense that former Illinois Gov. George Ryan made his own trips to Cuba, leading a delegation of Illinois business interests to meet with Cuban government officials (including Fidel Castro himself).

Were any deals worked out? No.

BUT IS THERE a chance that when relations are restored between the two countries, that Illinois businesses will be at the head of the line to sell their goods to Cuban officials? It’s very likely, and it is the reason why current Gov. Rod Blagojevich showed himself to be small-minded when he called Ryan’s Cuba trips a waste of time – saying he’d prefer to develop more ties to India instead.

There will be benefits to Ryan’s efforts – unless the Cuba embargo manages to last for another few decades and everybody who was present at those meetings is dead.

That’s very unlikely. Nobody (not even Fidel Castro) lives forever. The Cuban situation is going to change radically in the next decade. It would be nice if the United States had a leader who wants to address the situation now.

Despite that, I am not convinced that Obama will any time soon be visiting Havana. Should he manage to win the Nov. 4 elections, Obama is going to be bogged down by all the interests who expect him to follow through on his campaign rhetoric to impose change in the practices of the U.S. government.

THERE ARE ALSO going to be those people who didn’t support him who may very well hold a grudge and will go out of their way to thwart the objectives of an Obama presidency. The point of this is that Obama may very well find himself “too busy” dealing with other issues to have a Castro meeting in the near future (maybe during a second term, but that makes the BIG assumption that he is in a position to run for re-election).

So it was cute to read the “Trinidad Express,” but reality suggests their interpretation of the facts is just a little too “out there” to resemble reality.

Besides, if you want the ultimate evidence that the newspaper doesn’t fully comprehend the U.S. political situation, consider that their analysis piece made mention of the, “historic and formidable Obama/Clinton ticket.”

Anybody with sense realized months ago that Obama and Clinton are NOT the perfect pairing, and that neither one of them really wants to have anything to do with the other – should they be victorious come November.


EDITOR’S NOTES: It must be a slow news day in Trinidad if a prospective meeting between a “President Obama” and “los hermanos Castro” constitutes ( news.

Barack Obama used a presidential debate in Texas to tout his desire that the United States figure out a way ( to normalize its relations with Cuba.

How will the Miami Cuban voter bloc react to Obama? It (,8599,1655373,00.html) remains to be seen, since he didn’t campaign in the Florida primary.

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