Failing to beat Cuba for 57 years, USA rushes to join it
After an unprovoked, systematic and sustained 57-year offensive against Cuba, which jeopardised the tiny central American nation’s economy, polity and, at times, even its very existence, the world’s most powerful nation, the USA, was on Monday forced to concede what was essentially an abject defeat by sending its 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama II, to make peace with the “evil enemy”.
Later, Obama would also have dinner with Cuban President Raúl Castro, brother of the legendary anti-US revolutionary and former Cuban President Fidel Castro. During the decades of hostilities, Washington DC had attempted the failed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and several CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro — including the legendary conspiracy of sending him an exploding cigar.
“Que bola Cuba?” Obama tweeted on landing, using Cuban slang to ask what’s going on. “Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” Moments later, a smiling Obama emerged from Air Force One with his wife First Lady Michelle and their two daughters Sasha and Malia, clutching umbrellas to shield themselves from a warm afternoon rain shower. He was greeted on the tarmac by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, before loading into his bulky limousine, nicknamed “the beast.”
Obama is not only the first sitting US president since Fidel Castro’s guerrillas overthrew the US-installed puppet government of Fulgencio Batista in 1959, but the first since President Calvin Coolidge in 1928 to visit Cuba.
Seeking to leave a historic foreign policy mark in his final year in office, Obama toured the newly reopened US embassy and old town Havana, and would hold talks with President Raul Castro and attend a baseball game before leaving for Argentina on Tuesday.
For Cubans dreaming of escaping isolation and reinvigorating their threadbare economy, the visit has created huge excitement.
“A president of the United States in Cuba arriving in Havana on his Air Force One,” wrote popular Cuban writer Leonardo Padura on the Cafefuerte blog. “Never in my dreams or nightmares could we have imagined that we’d see such a thing.” For days, Havana’s old town has been crawling with painters sprucing up the picturesque neighborhood and the US Stars and Stripes — long the enemy flag — has appeared over numerous buildings.
The United States spent decades trying to topple Cuba’s communist government. Now, after so many failures, Obama has bet that soft power will achieve what muscle could not. Although a decades-long US economic and trade embargo remains in place — and can only be removed by the Republican-controlled Congress — large cracks in the sanctions regime are appearing.
Obama hopes that a host of incremental and seemingly technical steps will open Cuba’s economy, transforming the island economically and politically. Lawmakers including US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were with Obama, while a delegation of political and business leaders was traveling separately.
“It’s a soft war using visitors as the soldiers, commercial airlines as the air force, and cruise ships as the navy,” said John Kavulich, president of the United States-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. In the latest such move, the US government gave the home rental platform Airbnb a green light to accept bookings in Cuba from non-American customers. Earlier, US group Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide said it had signed three hotel deals in Cuba, a first for any hospitality company since the
revolution of 1959.