To some degree, I felt immense pride and joy as the president of the United States entered Cuba today, becoming the first to do so in 88 years. However, as I watched the live television feed from Havana, all joy was replaced with sadness. You would have thought, that for such a historic and significant event, the Cuban people would have been informed about the visit, and the various stops that President Obama was scheduled to make. All of that information was limited to the people, and most of them were not aware of timing or scheduling of today’s events.
In other words, the Cuban people were not given the chance to express their gratitude to Obama by making themselves visible to welcome the American delegation to Cuba. They were never given the chance. You would have imagined that with the historical landing of the president’s motorcade, the streets of Havana would have been lined with hope. Instead, the live television feed of the motorcade was not shown on the island. The people instead watched a taped, delayed version.
In another troubling turn of events, just hours before Obama arrived the civil rights group Ladies in White tried to stage a non-violent protest on Palm Sunday, but they were arrested by Cuban security forces. These women represent the sons and daughters of Cuba that have been thrown in jail over their attempt to express the desire for basic human rights.
And so, as I listened to the Cuban analyst talk about what the president’s visit may represent for human rights in Cuba, all that I could think about is what the Cuban government itself wants, which is to stay exactly the way that it is. I do not believe that Obama has a true understanding of how unwilling the Cuban government is to change. If Obama believed that he was going to be able to preach about civil rights and open doors for the Cuban people during this visit, he is sorely mistaken. His message to Cuba’s government will fall on deaf ears.
Let me remind you that the reason we broke diplomatic relations with Cuba in the first place was because of their totalitarian communist regime and what it implied for the developing island. At the time, our leaders believed that it was the only way to keep Fidel Castro in check. Now, I do agree with Obama that the strategy did not work, and as a result Cuba became more isolated and the people suffered tremendously.
I believe that the Cuban government wants to form a Chinese-style regime. They want open commerce but they don’t want any governmental change when it comes to the people. It is now up to Obama to prevent that from happening just 90 miles away from the U.S. coast. In doing so, he must approach this newfound relationship that we have with them as one of compromise, and not one made of victories and defeats.
So while I am skeptical of what Obama’s visit to Cuba will mean for the people, I am in a way still hopeful that it marks the beginning of a very long process toward freedom for them. It will be a long time before they are able to exercise their own rights, but let us hope that this is the beginning of a path that leads to their democratic voice, their human rights, and their ability to become a self sustaining nation, which is what every Cuban wants.