A Gesture of Friendship

This morning I watched President Obama address the Cuban people, and as I watched, I found myself thinking that I will miss this president greatly come next January.  I am sure to hear from those who have done nothing to help and everything to criticize during his presidency, but I, for one, know that no matter which of the current candidates, democrat or republican, becomes the next president of the United States, I will feel less secure a year from now than I do today.  In my opinion, President Obama has brought intellect, dignity and reason to the office, a welcome change after the chaos and turmoil of the previous administration.

President Obama’s visit to Cuba marks a milestone in Cuban-U.S. relations, one that I hope is a sign of better relations between our nations going forward.  The last time a U.S. president visited Cuba was in 1928, when President Calvin Coolidge attended the Pan American games.  Since then, we have seen 60 years of conflict between the neighboring nations that spanned the terms of 11 US presidents.  Many have asked the question, “why now?”  The answer, according to President Obama is fairly simple.  “What the United States was doing was not working. We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth. A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century. The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them. And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” — we should not fear change, we should embrace it. Creo en el pueblo Cubano. I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”  The White House originally said the president would travel to the island nation only after seeing substantive change, but President Obama decided to visit Cuba early to help accelerate that change.

The president’s address appeared to be  well received by the Cuban people.  He touched briefly on the shared heritage between the U.S. and Cuba, referencing a shared love of baseball (including the fact that Jackie Robinson once played on a field in Cuba, which drew hearty applause), a culture of slaves long ago imported from Africa, Dr. Carlos Finlay, Ernest Hemingway, and the fact that both of our nations have opened our arms and hearts to immigrants.  He also mentioned our shared common values of patriotism, pride and a shared religion. On the other side, he noted our differences, saying “Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.”

I will not recount the entire speech, but will include a link at the end of this post to the transcript for any who may wish to read it.  However a few of the highlights bear repeating here:

  • “Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.”
  • “As the decades rolled by, our governments settled into a seemingly endless confrontation, fighting battles through proxies. In a world that remade itself time and again, one constant was the conflict between the United States and Cuba.”
  • “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”
  • “And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.”

For those who would criticize Obama for normalizing relations with Cuba and for visiting a country known for its human rights violations, the president said this to the Cuban people: “I believe that every person should be equal under the law.  Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads.  I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. Not everybody agrees with me on this. Not everybody agrees with the American people on this. But I believe those human rights are universal. I believe they are the rights of the American people, the Cuban people, and people around the world.”

And finally, I must touch on the criticism that I recently heard that, in light of the terrorist attacks in Brussels this morning, the president should have cut his trip to Cuba short and returned home early.  I see this as just another partisan (not to mention utterly ridiculous) attempt to criticize and discredit the president.  The president was in Cuba to work toward improving relations between our two nations.  Had he returned to Washington, what could he have done that would have changed the situation in Belgium?  Nothing.  I understand that the republicans delight in finding fresh ways to criticize President Obama, and I understand that this is an election year and the rhetoric is magnified by at least 1,000.  But people, this criticism was in such poor taste that it had even this old seasoned Filosofa’s mouth dropping open.  It was in bad taste, it was inappropriate criticism, and it was a slap in the face toward Belgium, toward Cuba, and toward all of us good people in this nation and around the world.

There is no valid reason to maintain a hostile environment between our two nations, and I believe that President Obama made that point quite well.  The new strategy is to work with Cuba rather than against it; to attempt to improve life in the country through negotiations and commercial ties rather than attempting to topple the communist government through isolation and economic pressure.  Can anybody deny that this makes sense? We do not always need to see eye-to-eye with our friends to be … friends.  We do not need to impose our own beliefs, our own values, on our neighbors to be good neighbors.  In today’s global environment, it is far better to be friends and neighbors than enemies.  Let’s face it … we have enough enemies already.

Link to full transcript of Obama’s address: http://www.voanews.com/content/obama-cuba-speech-to-people-of-cuba-full-transcript/3249200.html

2 thoughts on “A Gesture of Friendship

  1. Of course, there were many who criticized the President’s failure to change his schedule in Cuba due to the Brussels attack. Those people missed an important point that he has made repeatedly. The terrorists want to disrupt our lives with fear and worry. One of the best things we can do is continue on with our lives and show them they have not impacted us.

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