The Limits of Obama’s Cuba Trip
His visit may be historic, but change won’t happen unless Raúl Castro will allow it to occur
With all due respect to Mick and Keith, a Rolling Stones concert is no longer a life-changing experience. Nor is a visit from a U.S. president, necessarily. Change in Cuba—where these two events are scheduled for successive days in March—depends most of all on the Cuban government. President Obama’s trip to Cuba on March 21 is not, as its critics contend, a vote of confidence in President Raúl Castro’s government. It’s simply an opportunity for Obama to acknowledge both the successes and the limits of U.S. policy.
More than a year after the normalization of ties began between the U.S. and Cuba, there are tangible signs of progress. Commercial flights and ferry service from the U.S. will soon resume, bringing more American travelers to Cuba. U.S. cellular companies provide service on the island, and Internet access has improved. The first U.S. factory on Cuban soil in more than half a century will soon open. And serious talks have begun on issues such as investor protections, telecom regulations, and environmental protection.
Like the hundreds of millions more dollars in U.S. remittances lifting the fortunes of ordinary Cubans and fueling small businesses, these developments can have a powerful cumulative effect. For one thing, they raise popular expectations and put the onus for change squarely on Cuba’s government. Moreover, even with the embargo intact, a visit from a popular American president may help convince the Cuban people that the U.S. is no enemy.
So you can expect an eloquent speech or two. But soaring rhetoric about free expression is meaningless without support for those who depend on it to criticize the Castro regime, which has increased its persecution of them. Obama can help his credibility by recognizing that, for most Cubans, daily life is much as it was. <BW>