Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García
Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of
wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30
PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí
International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the
final redoubts of communism in the world.
While a Secret Service agent opened Obama’s umbrella at the foot of the
airplane stairs as he greeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez,
two hours earlier in Miramar, west of Havana, State security agents had
fiercely repressed a group of forty women and two dozen men who were
demanding democracy and freedom for political prisoners.
The dissident movement Ladies in White was instrumental in the
olive-green autocracy’s calculated political reforms before the
Raúl Castro, hand-picked for the presidency in the summer of 2006 by his
brother Fidel, took the brunt of the escalating violence, and in three
way negotiations with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos
and the National Catholic Church in 2010, he freed 75 dissidents and
sent the majority into exile.
Castro II changed the rules of the game. The repressive modus operandi
of the regime began using brief detentions and returned, in a worrisome
way, to beatings, death threats, and verbal attacks on its opposition.
The afternoon that The Beast rolled into Old Havana, where Obama ate
dinner with his family in a private restaurant, the regime sent a
message back to Washington: the reforms — if they can be called reforms
— would be made at the convenience of the Palace of the Revolution, not
the White House.
On December 17, 2014, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama decided to
reestablish diplomatic relations and to turn around the anachronistic
policies of the Cold War.
The strategy of Obama proved indecipherable to the Taliban of Castroism.
He did not threaten to deploy gunboats nor subvert the state of affairs.
In his memorable speech at the Grand Theater of Havana on the 22nd of
March, he simply offered things that the majority of Cubans desire, and
of course did not renounce the doctrines that sustain American
democracy, of supporting private businesses and political rights.
Obama said what he thought looking into the eyes of Raúl Castro,
squatted in an armchair on the second balcony of the theater and
surrounded by the military junta that has administered Cuba for almost
The 48 hours of his visit shook Havana. Neither the strong security
measures nor the Communist Party’s strategy for minimizing the impact of
Obama’s speech prevented the spontaneous reception of the people of
Havana that greeted the president wherever Cadillac One passed.
But official reactions to the visit were not long in coming. Fidel
Castro, retired from power, sick and waiting for death in his
residential complex of Punto Cero, opined that Obama’s outstretched hand
was poisoned candy.
The propaganda machinery of the regime began to corrode, and some signs
of economic backlash against intermediaries and private sellers of
agriculture products, which began in early January, were reinforced in
the following months.
Obama’s visit entrenched the hard-core of the island’s totalitarianism.
The gang closed ranks, they returned to the spent Soviet language, and
began to render to Castro I a cult of personality modeled on a North
It was assumed that the arrival of the president to Havana would be the
event of 2016 in Cuba, but at 10 PM on the night of November 25th,
according to the government, Fidel Castro died.
His death was no surprise. With 90 years and various ailments, the death
of the ex-guerilla was imminent. For better or for worse, he placed Cuba
on the world political map, confronting it with strategies of subversion
against the United States.
His revolution was more political than economic. He could never erect a
robust economy, and the architecture and textile factories during his
extensive rule, only produced things of shoddy and bad taste. Any
reasonable person should analyze the benefits and prejudices of the
regime of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty powered by cheap nationalism.
Division of families. Polarization of society. Relentless with its
enemies and local opposition.
Agriculture declined, he buried the sugar industry and it is difficult
to find any economic, sports or social sector that has not gone
downhill. There was no political honesty in recognizing his failures. On
the contrary, the regime entrenched itself in what it knows best: odes,
panegyrics and trying to enshrine its absurdities in gothic lettering.
And then, 2016 was the year of Raul Castro’s diplomatic apparatus, the
most outstanding in his decade as president of the republic. In the last
five years he has reaped success. The secret negotiations for the
reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. The
intermediation of peace in Colombia, with the Roman Catholic Church and
the Russian Orthodox Church. The cancellation of financial debts and
negotiation of a new deal with the Paris Club. And he even managed to
blow up the Common Position of the European Union. Unobjectionable
triumphs of Castro’s advisers in international relations.
But those same advisers misjudged their strategy against the United
States. Like the American media and pollsters, they failed to discern
the Donald Trump phenomenon. They may now regret that they have not made
enough progress during Obama’s term.
Trump is unpredictable. He repeals the agreements reached with the
United States saying he will make a better one. But something is clear
to the regime. To negotiate benefits you have to make concessions. No
In 2016 there was much more. Mick Jagger unfolded his unusual physical
energy in a mega-concert, scenes of the movie Fast and Furious were
filmed in Cuba, and almost every day a celebrity landed in Havana.
In May, Chanel offered a haute couture show in the Paseo del Prado in a
country where the majority of inhabitants earn $25 a month and not
everyone can see Chanel models in fashion magazines.
Cruises began arriving from Miami as did regular flights from the United
States. There were more than 1,200 cultural and academic exchanges, and
the visits by weighty figures of both governments have been numerous.
The meetings and negotiations have been constant; as constant as the
repression. According to the National Commission of Human Rights and
Reconciliation, in the month of November there were 359 arbitrary
detentions of dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.
The détente is not about to land on the Cuban table. Markets continue to
be out of stock, two meals a day is still a luxury, and one hour of
surfing the internet is equivalent to the wages of a day and a half of
work by a professional.
The year 2017 will be a key year. Barack Obama, the conciliator, will
not be in the White House, and in Cuba the old leader Fidel Castro will
not be there either.
Source: Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro /
Iván García – Translating Cuba –