Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Obama does Cuba; does it make much of a difference in our relations?

I’m sure there are some people to whom the only part of President Barack Obama’s three-day sojourn to Cuba that matters is the ballgame being played Tuesday between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s famed national baseball team.

Will there be lasting benefits?
Others, I’m sure, are going to downplay even that factor – it is, after all, just a pre-season exhibition (although the Cuban squad is filled with players who have been active in a winter season for several months, they’re going to ‘give game’ and play to win).

BUT WHAT REALLY is the significance of the fact that Obama felt compelled to arrive in Havana on Sunday, and spend the day at several sites around Havana of cultural importance? And also include a couple-hours session meeting with the brother of Fidel Castro?

I have long been a supporter of the idea of closer relations between the United States and is neighbor nation in the Caribbean. I have always thought the trade embargo our nation imposes on Cuba to be a failure – primarily because it has not achieved its goal of breaking the Cuban economy.

Granted, Cuba’s economy is in the gutter. But the powers-that-be there have managed to use it as propaganda material to inspire distaste for the United States. We play right into the stereotype of the “Ugly American,” and our business interests lose out on the chance to gain from Cuba’s assets.

Which is why I found it interesting to read the news accounts of Obama’s arrival on Sunday, to find crowds chanting and cheering “U-S-A, U-S-A” as enthusiastically as any sports crowd watching a United States team beating up on some batch of foreigners!

COULD WE BE on the verge of a significant thaw in the ice that has developed between the two nations? Or will the partisanship motivated by too many generations of ideologues be enough to keep things a mess for years to come?

The Tuesday highlight to end this particular presidential sojourn
Will the laying of a wreath at the monument to 19th Century Cuban patriot Jose Marti (who actually lived a large chunk of his life in exile in New York City) be seen as a magnanimous gesture? Or as some sort of social surrender by a U.S. president?

I can already envision the rants that will come from some political people – those determined to see that nothing changes; likely because their own livelihoods depend on continued hostilities and keeping the image of Fidel Castro alive and thriving to frighten our masses.

Not much has changed since Ryan met Castro
Just think of how little has changed since that day in 1999 when then-Gov. George Ryan led a delegation to Cuba in hopes of putting Illinois at the head of the pack when the day came that the trade embargo was lifted.

THAT EMBARGO STILL remains, even though Obama has taken actions to ease relations between the two nations – such as restoring the U.S. Embassy in Havana and permitting an exhibition such as the Tampa Bay ball club getting a spring training sojourn to Cuba.

Although a part of me still thinks it would have been more interesting if it had been the Chicago White Sox and Cuban star Jose Abreu doing Havana to play the Cuban national team!

But back to our relations, which remain unsettled because of those people determined to undo anything Obama has done during the past seven years, One of those people is Republican presidential dreamer Ted Cruz – who is one of those eager to keep alive the image of Fidel as a tyrant threatening world freedom; instead of the third-rate, penny-ante, sorry excuse of a dictator he always has been.

U.S. foreign policy has done much (even more than those Soviet Union subsidies) to keep alive the Castro regime in Cuba, and it likely is a step (or several) in the Obama direction for us to truly give Cuba the boost in the direction toward the freedom we’d like to see them have. A significant part of that is gestures such as the one where Google will set up improved Internet access on the Caribbean island nation -- which will go a long way toward making the people desire a U.S.-influenced lifestyle.

OR AT LEAST something not so openly hostile to our nation’s interests as what currently exists.

Because I do realize what our nation’s primary interest will be is in creating economic opportunity for U.S. businesses in Cuba. Whether the Cuban people gain a less-oppressive government isn’t something we really care about.

It’s nice if it happens, but we’ve been willing to do business with tyrants in the past. Let’s not be hypocritical about that point. We’ll have to see if Obama’s presence in Havana these past few days will do anything to make a difference, and perhaps push Cuba in the right direction.

Lincoln's memory still revered in Havana -- even if his brand of cigars is a thing of the past
It makes me wonder if, a century from now, Obama’s legacy in Cuba will be remembered somewhere close to the way Cubans actually revere the memory of Abraham Lincoln – a thought I’m sure infuriates the ideologues of U.S. of today.


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