I arrived in the United States for the WPI fellowship on the day of the reopening of the USA embassy in Havana. It was on August 14 and I was at the Houston airport waiting for my flight to the Twin Cities. CNN was broadcasting live this historical event, but nobody in the airport seemed to be very interested in the formal establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, even those who were all bored waiting two hours to catch a flight. Cuba is not a nuclear power and the Castro brothers are not like former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader. Cubans are not a threat to the world, after all.
Since the inception of the fellowship programme, relations between Cuba and USA have always been brought to the centre table, always been a subject of discussion in our meetings with government officials and experts at various think-tanks. Till now, nobody that I’ve met has been against the White House policy regarding this new chapter of engagement between Havana and Washington. Well, not nobody. Donald Trump insists on pointing out that the continued economic isolation of Cuba would have toppled Castro’s regime. Really, Mr. Trump?
The United States started imposing sanctions against Cuba from 1959 and they have not succeed. They tried the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and they didn’t succeed. They tried to impose travel restrictions, but the regime is still in the hands of the Castro brothers. There was no way out except a rapprochement between the two neighbours. Years of USA embargo were counterproductive. But, we also know that Trump wants to build a wall between Mexico and United States “to keep drug dealers and rapists away”. I think that Trump is quite old-fashioned wearing Cold War clothes. Building a wall between two countries is so last season, Mr. Trump!
In our meetings and conversations with ordinary Americans, I usually ask the same question: “We know what Cuba can learn from the United States. Freedom of speech, freedom of press, consolidated and strong democracy, and so on. But what can the United States learn from Cuba?”
The usual responses: “The United States can learn from all countries” or “Cuba has a very good healthcare and education system”. The issue that is highlighted among others is that Washington and Havana will continue to have disagreements on important political issues. The United States does not agree with many policies in the world, for instance Socialist China and the Bolivarism Socialism of Venezuela, but they keep trading with them. There is no embargo on those countries, except the sanctions that USA has imposed on Venezuela’s government officials that contributed to the 2014 and 2015 protests, and of course those who committed human rights violations.
Barack Obama took an important step forward with regard to relations between USA and Latin America. In April 2009, he was in Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas. Obama was new in power and said that he wanted to have “a new beginning with Cuba”. In 2014, both presidents agreed that it was time to change the course of history and there was no point in keeping two neighbours apart. I remember vividly that day in my newsroom. Everybody was standing and listening to Obama’s and Castro’s speech.
Pope Francis played an important role in advancing relations between the two countries. He arrived on September 18 in Cuba, an atheist state since the change in its constitution in 1976. Most certainly it seems like a political visit rather than a religious one. The next stop is Washington.
Washington and Havana have much more to learn about each other than what we saw in our meetings. It is not just democracy, healthcare or the education system. History will tell us what both these countries will actually learn from each other.