President Obama continues to keep the promises he made during the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign. Since coming to the White House, he reopened the door that was cruelly shut by his predecessor and encouraged Cuban Americans to make unlimited visits to their families on the island. He also opened a dialogue with Cuba’s government “without preconditions,” and promised to meet with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro “at a time and place of my choosing.”
“Trust,” we learned in Cuba last week, “is a series of promises kept.” The President will fulfill this promise when he travels to Cuba accompanied by Mrs. Obama on March 21-22. On those dates, as the U.S. media has repeated ad nauseam in the last 36 hours, he will become the first president to do so since President Calvin Coolidge made the trip in 1928 to address a meeting of the Pan American Conference.
Is there something of value to be learned from Coolidge’s visit some 88 years ago
For more than half of the 20th Century, Cuba danced at the end of a string held tight in Washington’s grasp. Prior to the Coolidge presidency, an amendment to the Cuban Constitution was adopted which gave the United States carte blanche to intervene, and U.S. soldiers were deployed on multiple occasions to do exactly that. As Bill LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh write in their essential Back Channel To Cuba, “Treaties and laws promulgated by the U.S. military governors gave U.S. businesses unmatched advantages in the Cuban market.”
Coolidge was welcomed to Cuba by the nation’s President Gerardo Machado who, as Lars Schoultz recalls, was nicknamed “the Butcher of Las Villas.” The U.S. government was forgiving of Machado’s brutality, corruption, and fraudulent reelection to his second term in office, and he was admired by U.S. investors for the stability he brought to the island.
Following a florid introduction by Machado, President Coolidge spoke for over a half-hour, reading a text that exceeded 4,000 words, clearly crafted with the U.S. audience in mind.
“Thirty years ago Cuba ranked as a foreign possession, torn by revolution and devastated by hostile forces. Such government as existed rested on military force. Today Cuba is her own sovereign. Her people are independent, free, prosperous, peaceful, and enjoying the advantages of self-government…
“They have reached a position in the stability of their government, in the genuine expression of their public opinion at the ballot box, and in the recognized soundness of their public credit that has commanded universal respect and admiration.”
Machado must have basked in the glory of Coolidge’s remarks. Cubans, if they even heard what the man nicknamed “Silent Cal” said, must have been troubled by the contrast between his fact-free description of their country and the reality of Cuba’s politics and economy they knew all too well.
A few years later, Cubans drove the despot Machado into a comfortable Miami exile, and they have waited nine decades for an American President to speak to them again, and to use words that reflect their realities.
We don’t have a single doubt about how the President will be received in Cuba. In Havana, we saw their eyes glow with pride on the day Mr. Obama shook hands with President Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service; a year later, their joyful tears wet our faces as we celebrated the announcement that Cuba and the United States would resume diplomatic relations. After cheering the President for quoting Jose Martí in an address carried on state television, Cubans described the sensation of a burden being lifted from their country as they saw our half-century long isolation finally coming to an end.
Because they have seen the first American president in their lifetimes treat Cuba with respect, President Obama will surely receive a hero’s welcome from the Cuban people when he arrives there in March.
That moment – covered in real time on global television – will surely be a teachable moment for the U.S. audience, which is already giving the President high marks for his Cuba diplomacy, as the Gallup polling organization said today. A strongly positive welcome for the President holds the promise of galvanizing momentum for further reforms in U.S. policy. It will also give lie to assertions by the President’s bilious opponents that his rapprochement with Cuba’s government is a self-out of Cuba’s people.
If bilious seems strong, how better to describe the written statement from a Senator of his own party who called the upcoming visit “unacceptable” and against “enduring American values,” or the assertion by another who said that visiting Cuba will be “damaging to our national security interests” and will “send the message to the oppressed Cuban people that you stand with their oppressors”? The latter comment is drawn from Senator Marco Rubio’s letter to the President demanding that he not make the trip at all.
Rather than sitting out history now, as his opponents want him to do, or spinning fantasy for reality as Calvin Coolidge did nine decades ago, Mr. Obama is striving to do better – to make a nuanced case that reflects the aspirations of Cubans, expresses his devotion to American values (as he did Thursday on Twitter), highlights the benefits to U.S. interests, and respectfully encourages Cuba’s leadership to use the remainder of his term and Raúl Castro’s time in office to address issues that must be resolved to normalize relations fully.
If the President can slice through the noise coming from his opponents, his visit can advance the cause of normalization in the United States by gaining support for more executive actions to loosen restrictions on Cuba and for Congress ultimately repealing the travel ban and the embargo entirely.
Even more, as Sarah Stephens of CDA said in her statement Thursday, “this visit can affect how the leaders and people of both countries decide what they want the definition of normal to be. Are we neighbors at peace with a wall between us, or are we neighbors and friends with a door that is open and welcoming in both directions?”
The early signs are promising; that rather than pulling a Coolidge President Obama will thread the needle and prepare both countries for a lot more progress in the little time he has left to serve.
President Obama is going to Cuba. Here’s why, Ben Rhodes, Medium
The White House announced that President Barack Obama will visit Cuba in March, the first visit by a sitting U.S. president since 1928. The official visit is the latest step in the Obama administration’s effort to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba. In this article, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes explains the President’s decision to travel to Cuba and the administration’s goals for the future of U.S. – Cuba relations.
For The First Time, Majority Of Americans See Cuba Favorably In Poll, Bill Chappel, NPR
For the first time since the 1959 revolution, a majority (54%) of Americans now view Cuba in a positive light, according to a recent Gallup poll. The results show a 33 point net favorability gain in the past ten years. The biggest gain was among Democrats, 73% of whom now view Cuba in a positive light. A strong majority of Republicans, however, despite favoring an end to the embargo, still view Cuba negatively, with only 34% having favorable views of the island nation. Favorability among independents stands at 53%. For a comprehensive review of polling data on U.S. – Cuba relations, see our November 2015 News Briefing here.
U.S. missile inadvertently shipped to Cuba has been returned, Elise Labott and Eugene Scott, CNN
A Hellfire missile wrongly sent to Cuba was returned to the U.S. on Saturday. The missile, a so-called “dummy missile” (not fitted with a warhead, fusing system rocket monitor or operational seeker) used in exercises, had been in Cuba since 2014, when it was misrouted en route from Spain to Florida following a military exercise.
Kathy Castor Leads 7-Member Congressional Delegation to Cuba, Florida Politics
Seven members of the U.S. House – led by Representatives Kathy Castor (FL-14) and Tom Emmer (MN-6), and including John Garamendi (CA-3), Paul Gosar (AZ-4) Brendan Boyle (PA-13), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Mike Bishop (MI-8) – traveled to Cuba last weekend with the Center for Democracy in the Americas. Rep. Castor remarked prior to the trip that “We intend to meet with small business owners and entrepreneurs to gain a better understanding of how the changes in the Cuban economy are working,” At the trip’s conclusion, Mr. Emmer noted that his encounters with government and business leaders in Cuba have further convinced him that change is accelerating in Cuba, and warrants a proportional U.S. change in policy towards the island.
Sponsors Of Bill To Lift Cuba Embargo Say It Could See A Vote This Year, Tim Padgett, WLRN News
Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Rep. Kathy Castor of Florida expressed “guarded optimism” at a forum in Miami that their legislation to repeal the trade embargo “might generate enough support this year for a vote. “Emmer,” Padgett writes, “thinks enough momentum is building outside Washington, especially among agriculture interests in states like his, to give his bill a chance of passing even during this election year.”
Fresh from Cuba trip, Castor lauds Obama’s plans to travel there, Kate Bradshaw, CL Tampa
Days after returning from leading a congressional delegation to Cuba, Representative Kathy Castor (FL-14) offered her thoughts on President Obama’s announced upcoming trip to Cuba next month. In a statement released Thursday Castor said, “I know [the President] will be as inspired as I am by the Cuban people and the cuentapropistas who are building a more hopeful future for themselves and their families.” Castor also expressed confidence that the President’s trip would have a positive impact on the island and on U.S.-Cuba relations, and encourage greater political openness, economic growth, and respect for human rights.
Feds invite airlines to bid for Cuba flights, Keith Laing, The Hill
The Obama administration has signed an agreement with the Cuban government that would allow up to 110 commercial flights per day between the U.S. and Cuba. A number of U.S.-operated airlines have applauded the administration and are currently bidding to operate these newly approved flights. The announcement came during Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s visit to Cuba. American Airlines, one of the airlines bidding for flights to Cuba released a statement “applauding” the Obama Administration for its efforts and expressing great interest in “submitting a Cuba service proposal to the Department of Transportation in the coming weeks.”
Pact on U.S.-Cuba Flights Reopens Battle for Seized Property, Frances Robles, New York Times
On Tuesday, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and other top administration officials met with Cuban officials in Havana to sign an agreement that would allow commercial air travel between the two countries for the first time in over 50 years. As Ms. Robles reports, this move prompted complaints in the U.S. because of the unsettled issue of property claims. José Ramón López, 62, heir to the Havana airport and to Cuba’s national airline, maintains his claim over the airport’s future and cautions others against investing in Cuba. The State Department maintains that, “[Settling] Claims issues have been one of our highest priorities since we re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba.”
U.S. approves its first factory in Cuba – a two-person tractor company from Alabama, Fox News Latino
The Obama administration has approved the first U.S. factory in Cuba in over fifty years. This tractor factory – valued between $5 and $10 million – owned and operated by Alabama natives Horace Clemmons and Saul Berenthal, has been approved by the Cuban government. For at least the next three years, the factory will assemble tractors using parts manufactured and shipped from the United States. Long term, the partners hope to be able to manufacture parts in Cuba and export tractors to other Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Cuban minister in Washington, Sergio Alejandro Gómez, Granma
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment arrived in Washington on February 14, to undertake a four-day working visit. The visit by Cuba’s delegation – which included officials from the Ministry, the Central Bank of Cuba, the country’s Chamber of Commerce, as well as executives of Cuban state enterprises – continued a regulatory dialogue that started with U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s trip to Cuba late last year. The Cuban minister urged Congress to lift the decades-old economic embargo and promised that U.S. companies seeking to invest in Cuba would be treated equally with competitors from nations without trade restrictions on the island.
John Kerry Receives Cuban Minister Malmierca in Washington, Prensa Latina
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, met with the Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca in Washington. The meeting came at the end of Malmierca’s four-day official visit to the United States which included meetings at the Department of Commerce, the U.S.-Cuba Council of Business, the Chamber of Commerce, and the U.S. Institute of Peace. It also came mere hours after the White House announced that President Obama would visit Cuba in March.
MEDICC Urges Executive Actions to Improve U.S. Health Through Greater Cooperation with Cuba, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba
MEDICC has released a new white paper titled “A Safer, Healthier Future Through U.S.-Cuba Cooperation” that highlights specific ways in which President Obama can use his executive authority to improve Americans’ health through cooperation with Cuba. Proposals include allowing Cuban-developed pharmaceuticals and medicines to be more readily available to American patients, allowing U.S. pharmaceutical and medical companies to test their products in Cuba, expanding Americans’ access to healthcare by allowing them to travel to Cuba for treatment, and encouraging greater bilateral cooperation between U.S. and Cuban officials on addressing regional and global health emergencies such as Ebola, Dengue, and Zika.
Patriarch Kirill visits Fidel, Juventud Rebelde, Granma
On February 13, Patriarch Kirill I of the Russian Orthodox Church visited Fidel Castro while on an official visit to Cuba. The two discussed fighting poverty and discrimination, promoting peace and humanitarianism, and applauded positive relations between Russia and Cuba.
Scientific research crucial to development, Orfilio Peláez, Granma
First Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel has emphasized a need for Cuba to further develop its science and technology programs. Focusing on hard sciences, he believes, is critical to the “construction of a prosperous, sustainable socialist system” and to the preservation of the Cuban revolution’s founding principles. Diaz-Canel is believed to be a likely successor to President Raúl Castro when he steps down from power in 2018.
President of Peru to visit Cuba, Granma
Peru’s President Ollanta Humala arrived in Cuba on Thursday for an official state visit to the island. During his visit, he will participate in a wreath-laying memorial service at Cuba’s José Martí monument, receive an honorary medal at the Presidential palace, and meet with Cuba’s President Raúl Castro to discuss ways in which the two nations can strengthen political, economic, and diplomatic cooperation.
Raúl Castro receives Vice President of Uruguay, Granma
On Tuesday, Cuba’s President Raúl Castro met with Raúl Sendic Rodríguez, Vice President of Uruguay, on an official visit to Cuba. The meeting was a productive and “positive” opportunity for the two officials to discuss both bilateral and broader international issues. There was a particular focus on increasing regional integration, strengthening parliamentary ties, and augmenting Cuba’s technical and medical assistance to Uruguay.