* President Barack Obama’s recent interview with Telemundo’s Jose Diaz-Balart once again underscored that when it comes to Cuba, the Obama Administration looks a lot like “W, The Sequel.” A few incremental changes, but the same basic boilerplate directives–the ones that can’t be seriously aimed at the likes of Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and China–repeated for South Florida consumption. Nothing of game-changing significance for a president who still aspires to be transformational. Just an exercise in unnecessarily pragmatic politics on an issue that really could be low-hanging, non-Middle East foreign policy fruit in 2013. No matter what Marco Rubio might say in self-serving response.
After noting to Diaz-Balart that Cuba had to get its act together on “political prisoners” and “basic freedoms of the press–and assembly,” the president then riffed on the ideologic and economic mess that has been Cuban reality for more than a half century. “It’s one thing to have cars from the 1950s,” derided the president. “It’s another thing when your whole political ideology … is 50 years or 60 years old and it’s been proven not to work.”
All too true.
But so is this: America’s counterproductive relations with Cuba, a paean to the Cold War and knee-jerk anti-Communism, is a sovereign embarrassment. The consequences of an asinine policy based on Cuba being a Soviet proxy range from the humanitarian to the geopolitical–especially in our own hemisphere–to the economic–especially in our own state of Florida. This policy of pandering exile politics has gone on for some 60 years–and “it’s been proven not to work.”
* For those few Americans visiting Havana, a can’t-miss drive-by is the USS Maine monument on the seafront Malecon boulevard, the inspiration for our own Bayshore Boulevard. Long steeped in grime as well as history, the 88-year-old, twin-column monument is overlaid with symbolism and irony. It honors the memory of 266 U.S. sailors who died in 1898 when the Maine exploded and sank off Havana. It was dedicated as a tribute to Cuban-American friendship and a thank you for the U.S. role in the war with Spain.
Now, however, the Maine monument has been part of an overall restoration project around Havana, involving hundreds of works. In fact, the scaffolding has been recently removed and the nearly re-finished monument is once again seen as a study in white marble and gleaming bronze.
Apparently the high-profile, uber symbolic restoration has nothing to do with any formal change in U.S.-Cuban relations, however. Essentially they’re still stuck in that Cold War time warp. Indeed, no one has actually said anything officially, except that plans call for finishing touches: getting the fountains working and restoring the landscaping.
But for those hoping for a sign of possible rapprochement, here’s something to consider. When originally dedicated, the Maine monument prominently featured a 3-ton, bronze eagle, emblematic of America, on top. It came down–in pieces–in response to the Bay of Pigs invasion. For years its parts were shared by the U.S. Interests Section and the Havana City History Museum, respectively. Should the eagle reappear intact atop the Maine monument, it could represent more than a restoration project’s final finishing touch.
The man most responsible for the Maine monument restoration is City Historian Eusebio Leal. He said this in response to a question about envisioning the iconic eagle back on top: “On the occasion of a friendly visit by a U.S. president. I wish President Obama would be the one to do that.”
Remember the Maine–but keep watching for the eagle.
* Here’s another reminder–besides those one-sided United Nations votes against the U.S.-imposed Cuban embargo–that the dysfunctional relations between Cuba and America are more than just a personal tete-a-tete. Last month the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States convened in Santiago, Chile. The newly-elected chairman: Raul Castro. Among other interested outside parties: a delegation of European leaders led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. You can bet the frustrating and globally-ridiculed U.S. embargo didn’t go unacknowledged.
*Next month Cuba’s most famous blogger-dissident, Yoani Sanchez, will be New York and Washington as part of her 80-day tour of a dozen countries, including those that have awarded her international prizes that she has been heretofore unable to collect. Her travels–after having been denied permission more than 20 times over the last five years–will be well chronicled and scrutinized by governments and human rights advocates as a test of Cuban authorities’ commitment to meaningfully free travel.
The back story is compelling. Cuba’s leaders regularly castigate dissidents as traitorous mercenaries, and officially-sanctioned bloggers have charged that the renown of Cuba’s social network pioneer is a product of Western intelligence agencies’ stage management. The 37-year-old Havana resident also has been accused by some in the West of being a blogging double agent.
Particularly notable about Sanchez’s sojourn is her return. High-profile, regime opponents have left Cuba before–for exile. Her blogging–beginning from Brazil–has already begun. You can check it out for yourself by going to www.DesdeCuba.com/GenerationY. It will take you to an English language version.