Havana Obama!

Published: March 21, 2016 - 16:53

Editorial Hardnews Delhi

None of the famous bars like Floriditas, which were the favourite haunts of Ernest Hemingway during his addiction-filled writing days in Old Havana, has been listed for a family visit by Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and daughters Sasha and Malia. Equally shrouded in mystery is whether Obama will enjoy a large drink of Havana Club, the celebrated Cuban white rum. And yet, after the Air Force One landed on Sunday, as the American president walked on the beautiful rain-drenched cobblestoned open spaces of this old city of the revolution, where Che Guevara and other revolutionaries walked in their guerilla fatigues after the legendary Cuban revolution of 1959, it marked a sublime turning point in history.

For the first time after the revolution and the subsequent US embargo imposed on Cuba in 1960 for several decades (and the Cuban missile crises in 1962), which ravaged the Cuban economy and pushed it back decisively, Obama’s visit promises to resurrect a new era of friendship, peace, diplomacy and economic relations between this tiny ‘backyard’ nation in South America, and the US. "That's the future that we hope for: young American children, young Cuban children, by the time they're adults, our hope is that they think it's natural that a US president should be visiting Cuba," Obama reportedly told diplomats in the new US embassy in Havana. "They think it's natural that the two peoples are working together."

This symbolic shift is refreshing. Obama will not only meet political dissidents and be honoured in a state dinner which will be showcased on TV, he will also lay a wreath at the memorial of independence icon Jose Marti. Most importantly, he will be meeting President Raul Castro in the Palace of the Revolution. A joint conference or a discussion on human rights has been ruled out. The truth is that the Cubans did not succumb to any diplomatic pressure as they went about responding to Obama’s recent overtures to normalise their ties with the US.

Consequent to the easing of the ban between Cuba and America, including travel and economic restrictions, and in the current era of relaxation in internet freedom and free enterprise in Cuba, fresh winds are blowing in this beautiful island nation which became a ‘shining star’ of the ‘red revolution’ across the world, with Fidel Castro and Che enjoying cult status even today.

Indeed, in this symbolic détente, Obama will appreciate the tenacity and resilience displayed by the Cuban people despite the sanctions and a cold war like scenario. Cuba has overcome decades of hard poverty, isolation and deprivation with the sheer belief in the power of the revolution, and, with crucial help, earlier from Soviet Russia, and, then, Venezuela and other countries. From the revolution of the bullet to the revolution of the ballet, the independent economic and political paradigm shift in Latin America, often outside the control of the western economy, with the rise of Left and Left-liberal leaders across the continent, marked a wave of optimism in terms of a new age, most often, led by the charismatic (late) Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Even as current stories dealing with the conspiracy theory of his ‘slow murder’ runs across the South American landscape, with a key Chavez aide having suspiciously ‘defected’ to the US, and even while the Brazilian Left leadership led by Dilma Rousseff (and Luiz Inacio Lula) is fighting a pitched battle against her ‘Right-wing opponents’, Obama’s visit reminds the world of the many greatnesses of Cuba and its stoic, robust, and happy-go-lucky people.

For instance, since the revolution, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and medical workers have worked in more than 100 countries, especially third world countries, to usher in a ‘medical revolution’ of sorts. They were often the only ‘soft diplmacy’ options during massive natural calamities and disasters which rocked many parts of the world, from Pakistan to Chernobyl, to remote areas in Africa and Latin America. Certainly, Cuban doctors and medics are perhaps the best in the world, and an illuminating example of ‘health socialism’ whereby the commercialisation/privatisation of health and the destruction of social welfare structures have become a byword of neo-liberal  regimes worldwide. Cuba trains thousands of young doctors and medical professionals, free of cost, and its doctors continue to work, almost invisibly, in many nations of the world, as a gesture of humanity and friendship -- using science for the greater common good.

Ironically, Obama will not meet Fidel Castro, 89, the last of the mohicans. Nor will he pay homage to the eternal ‘red star of the revolution’: Che Guevara. However, as a sporting farewell gesture, he will watch a match of the Major League Baseball’s Tamba Bay Rays with the Cuban national team. Certainly, whatever be the nature of victory or defeat of the heady game, even as the American presidential campaign hots up, this might turn out to be win-win scenario for Cuba and the US. Surely, it’s time to celebrate peace and happiness. Indeed, it’s time to read, once again, Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms.