“What about Cuba, Mr. Obama?”

Barack Obama hopes to be received differently at the summit in Trinidad and Tobago: he can talk about the crisis, his administration’s new positions on Iraq and Iran, and any number of other things, but he can’t escape the fact that what matters most is his position on Cuba.

The imperial vision of the United States in relation to Latin America is summed up in its position on Cuba.  That was made clear when the United States was faced with a truly revolutionary process, which overthrew one of the region’s many dictatorships backed by Washington, and whose new government in Havana moreover radically reclaimed Cuba’s sovereignty, while making progress in the construction of a just society, beginning with land reform.

Till then, nationalist and/or anti-dictatorial movements had always been overthrown or co-opted.  Such was the fate of even the strongest of them, like the governments of Juan Domingo Perón and Getulio Vargas and even the Bolivian revolution of 1952.  When the United States realized it was losing control of a country that had been its most important neo-colony, it launched an offensive to try to prevent the consolidation of the revolutionary government.

Washington used all the tools at its disposal, from white phosphorus attacks — against the liberated territories in the eastern region of the island even before the victory of Fidel and his comrades — to assassination attempts against the leader of the revolution, deployment of terrorist commandos, and the arming of the right-wing opposition and the counter-revolutionary groups in the Cordillera Central of the country, topping them all with disinformation campaigns and the economic and diplomatic blockade.

The United States acted in accordance with the maxim of “No Quota, No Cuba,” i.e., if the powerful northern neighbor stopped buying its sugar crop, the country would not survive.  The Cuban bourgeoisie then shuttered their houses and left for the United States as if they were going on vacation, hoping that the new government would fall under the impact of the US boycott.

At the same time, Washington unleashed its biggest offensive against a country in the Americas, including the attempted invasion in 1961 and the naval blockade in 1962.  Similarly, the United States directed the OAS to isolate Cuba from the rest of the continent, getting all the governments — except Mexico, which alone maintained its diplomatic relations — to break their relations with the island, thus economically laying siege to Cuba while dividing among the servile governments the sugar quota that the Cubans lost.

More than four decades and ten US presidents later, Cuba is still alive.  It in fact has broken the blockade, not only through its links with other countries of the continent — even Costa Rica, the last in Latin America, just restored its relations with Cuba — but also through its ability to revive tourism, trade, and cultural exchange.  Cuba has maintained its dignity and sovereignty, while building the most just society in the world.  To do so, it could not but profoundly affect the US interests in the country.

That last point is what America will never forgive Cuba for: its independence and its exemplary role in breaking the imperialist domination over the island and growing the embryo of a new type of society, socialism.

Cuba offers to normalize its relations with the United States without even demanding the return of Guantánamo — absolutely fair though it would be if it were returned — demanding in return only that each country respect the kind of society the other has built and that there be reciprocal relations of equality and respect.

The problem for Obama is that if he wants to prove in deeds that he has a different attitude toward Latin America, he will have to do so by putting an end to the embargo and normalizing the US relations with Cuba.  Given the character of the United States which stems from the Cold War and the consummate expression of imperial arrogance in its relations with the rest of the Americas, Obama cannot just ease restrictions on travel and remittances and maintain the existing trade.  He will have to move forward and concretely plan direct meetings with the Cuban leaders and establish the normal relations between the island and the only government in the Americas that has refused to do so.

Obama will be warmly welcomed by all in Trinidad and Tobago.  Whether or not it is possible to open a new period after the United States’ troubled, violent, and hitherto arrogant relations with Latin America depends on his response to that warm welcome.

The original article “What about Cuba, Mr. Obama?” was published in the “Blog do Emir” section of Agência Carta Maior.  Click here to see Ruben Montedónico’s Spanish translation published in Jornada on 18 April 2009.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).