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Cuba: Behind Obama’s Historic Visit

We’ve all seen the headlines. For the first time in 88-years, US and Cuban leaders met in Havana. Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro held talks, preformed the requisite ceremonial photo-ops and even entertained a press conference.

Things are changing, no doubt. Things are getting better. Or are they? The entire affair is uniquely in light – and despite – the pillars of history which uphold it.

Once upon a time, US-backed right-wing Cuban Dictator Fulgencio Bautista was replaced by the Castro brothers. After a half-century of holding out in the face of embargos and lavish Cold War-lingo political tensions, a US-Cuban diplomatic restoration process is underway.

And yet the question remains: What else is behind this symbolic culmination of events?

The symbolism of Obama’s physical arrival to Cuba – as well as the whole processes that preceded it – is nothing more than the recognition of the fact that the decades-long policy implemented by the West towards Cuba “failed.”

Due to Cuba’s foreign relations savvy, Uncle Sam’s attempts to isolate Cuba following the revolution were unsuccessful. In other words, denying money and supplies from a consumer savvy global Super Power left infrastructural and other scars on the Communist isle, but did not cause its demise.

The Obama administration has recognized this over the vociferous objections of American conservatives.

However, this does not mean that Washington has changed its policy objectives toward overthrowing the current Cuban political system.

There’s the popular depiction of the term “overthrow” : raised ammo, waving flags and discredited leaders – dead or alive – who’s photos typically earn a Photo of the Year. While that’s certainly not an outdated version of the term, it also isn’t the only one. Overthrowing a political system can be a gradual, insidious, and intelligently strategized process. In other words, major changes cannot be photographed.

The Obama-Castro meeting, however, was just this. And so will the gradual entrance of Western influence into the “time-locked” 1950’s Caribbean country.

That’s no secret.

However, it is important to remember that the restoration of diplomatic relations and a presidential visit also merit a lighter interpretation. There is an undoubted triumph for the entire Cuban society that always claimed the possibility of a “dialogue of equals.” By contrast this is a defeat for those from current and former US administrations who have claimed the “impossibility” of negotiating with “dictators” or positively engaging in any relationship until there was a pro-Western “change of regime.”

Yet is it surprising that negotiations are occurring, since “change of regime” is slowly happening on its own?

Cambio Cubano

Is the cause of the downfall of the Cuban Revolution only due to its neighbor to the north, or it could be attributed in part to its neighbors to the south? In Latin American terms, right-wing governments helped usher the island into a fragile diplomat and economic state.

Then came Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (1999-2013).

President Chavez’s personal revolutionary idol was famously Fidel Castro and he ultimately turned to Cuba for cancer treatment. This deep and chiefly Venezuelan support allowed Castro’s Cuba to recover its economy early in this century. Flash forward sixteen years, and that aid was hampered by the fall in oil prices and the internal crisis of the Bolivarian Revolution where the right-wing critic that “Venezuela is puppeted by Cuba” rages.

Economic reforms in Cuba arising from the 1990’s to the so-called “special period” (after the Soviet Union’s demise) expanded since the Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in 2012. The Congress’ actions generated levels of inequality relatively important for a society with significant levels of equity in relation to el resto del mundo.

This very development of self-employment and cooperatives have allowed Cubans to have private enterprises that generate much higher incomes than those who work for the state. At the same time, the inflow of foreign capital through the Special Development Zones, although heavily regulated by Cuban legislation, provides salaries for local workers that were unimaginable previously.

Overall, this is a beginning which has led to the development and expansion of private capital. For example, a Cuban professional working in a multinational, can save enough to buy a taxi and hire an employee. If this capitalistic dynamism continues, individuals will inevitably undermine one of the main supports of the communist revolution: a future with familiar constancy, but one with greater independent opportunities.