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Reaction To President Obama's Trip To Cuba

David Gomez

#CubaNow

Mar 23, 2016

Friends,

We wanted to share some highlights from the coverage of President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba. His speech in Havana yesterday in particular won praise from even his strongest critics and stunned many on the Island with a message of both reconciliation and an appeal to the universal rights of all Cubans. We’ll have more in the days ahead, but in the meantime please take a moment to see how it all unfolded.

Thank you for your support,
David Gomez
Political Director, #CubaNow


Cubans And Cuban Americans React To The First U.S. President To Visit The Island In Nearly 90 Years

Cubans Packed The Street To Greet Obama: “Welcome To Cuba! We Like You!” “Shouts of ‘U.S.A.!’ and ‘Obama!’ echoed over the stone plazas as President Obama and his family made their way around rain-slicked courtyards in Old Havana on Sunday evening, savoring the adulation of Cubans welcoming him warmly despite a driving rain as he began a history-making visit. ‘Welcome to Cuba! We like you!’ a man shouted as Mr. Obama’s entourage passed. Above, a woman applauded and hooted from her wrought-iron balcony. Later, a motorcade including the presidential limousine, adorned for the first time with Cuban and American flags, snaked through narrow streets where elated residents, their clothing soaked from waiting in the rain, hoisted cellphones and cheered the first sitting American leader to set foot on Cuban soil in 88 years.” [New York Times, “Cubans Pack the Streets for a Glimpse of President Obama,” 3/20/16]

Cuban Carmen Diaz: “It Totally Satisfies My Soul To Be Able To Have Lived To See This Moment.” “All around the city on Sunday, Mr. Obama’s name could be heard — before he arrived, when bartenders on a hotel rooftop thought they saw his entourage; when he landed, as groups of Cubans stood under verandas by the sea; and in homes across the city, where families watched him wave and smile on Cuban television. ‘It totally satisfies my soul to be able to have lived to see this moment, a moment I never thought I would have seen,’ said Carmen Diaz, 70, watching Mr. Obama’s arrival from her daughter’s living room. ‘I feel this visit of an American president to Cuba is being done in the most elegant way possible.’” [New York Times, “Cubans Pack the Streets for a Glimpse of President Obama,” 3/20/16]

Cubans Stunned To See Obama Criticize The Cuban Government On Cuban Soil. “María Lastres sat nervously, bent over, her leg bouncing. Her husband, Jesús Magán, could hardly keep still. President Barack Obama was on TV, just a few miles from their modest Havana apartment, speaking truths to the Cuban government — on Cuban soil. They broke their rapt attention only to yelp, again and again, Cubans’ favorite interjection — ‘¡Ñó!’ — and to spontaneously applaud in unadultered astonishment. ‘Who would have thought we’d see this,’ Magán said, agape. ‘I mean, we were trained to fight against the Americans!’” [Miami Herald, “What a Havana family saw as it watched President Obama,” 3/22/16]

Cubans Watching President Obama’s Speech Described It As A Turning Point. “Of all the U.S. president’s activities during his groundbreaking visit to Cuba, the speech was his best chance to speak directly to Cubans, both here on the island and abroad. It wasn’t delivered in public, but it was broadcast in its entirety on Cuban state television, into the homes of many Cubans who, like Limas, talked about this visit as a turning point in their lives. The family hushed and seemed to hold their breath when Obama’s words directly challenged their leaders, especially as the U.S. president called for democratic elections and urged President Raul Castro not to ‘fear the different voices of the Cuban people.’ They admired his willingness to acknowledge the shortcomings and imperfections of the U.S. political system, and to have confidence in it anyway.” [Washington Post, “Watching a Cuban family watching Obama,” 3/22/16]

71-Year-Old Cuban Felipe García: “Obama Has Brought Incredible Joy To Cuba Because He Has Done What No U.S. President Has Done Before.” “In Cuba, many praised the fact that the American president spoke of the need to end the embargo. ‘It was very good,’ said Havana resident Aurora Valdez. ‘Cubans are interested in peace with the other countries, particularly to end the embargo. With no embargo Cuban people would be able to improve their lives with their own initiative.’ But for others, what resonated was that an American president had spoken to them, in their country. ‘We're here spontaneously, since we saw him on TV we want to see him in person,’ said Felipe García, 71, who was out hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama before he departed the island. ‘Obama has brought incredible joy to Cuba because he has done what no U.S. president has done before.’” [NBC News, “Cubans, Cuban Americans Share Their Emotions After Obama’s Speech,” 3/22/16]

Cuban-American Attorney Pedro Freyre: “A Perfect Balance Between Offering Peace And Reconciliation But Still Challenging The Cuban Government.” “In the poem, Martí offers a white rose to the ‘cruel one whose blows break the heart with which I live.’ ‘That poem is the essence of peace-making,’ said Miami attorney Pedro Freyre, who was in the audience at the ornate theater. ‘It says I give a white rose to my friend and to my enemy.’ ‘I thought it was a brilliant speech — a perfect balance between offering peace and reconciliation but still challenging the Cuban government,’ said Freyre, whose clients include a number of U.S. companies trying to do business with Cuba. It wasn’t lost on the Cuban-Americans in the audience that exiles figured so importantly in the speech. After thanking the Cuban government and people for their kindness, Obama immediately launched into their story — the pain of exile and their ultimate success in their new country. ‘In the United States, there is a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build,’ Obama said. ‘It’s called Miami.’ ‘I’m particularly grateful for the recognition,’ Freyre said.” [Miami Herald, “Obama leaves Cuba asking island to embrace change,” 3/22/16]

#CubaNow's Ric Herrero with Rep. Kathy Castor and Rep. Tom Emmer

#CubaNow’s Ric Herrero: Obama Embraced A Debate Over Differences But In The Spirit Of Reconciliation. “Ric Herrero, director of CubaNow, which supports engagement with Cuba and lifting the embargo, was also enthusiastic about the speech. ‘I think it’s one of the most momentous speeches ever delivered on Cuban soil. I’m still on a high,’ he said. ‘It was great to see him come here and embrace a debate over our differences yet do it in the spirit of reconciliation,’ he said. ‘It’s a model I think we should all follow.’” [Miami Herald, “Obama leaves Cuba asking island to embrace change,” 3/22/16]

NBC News: Cuban Americans’ Reactions To Obama’s Speech Reflecting The Changing Views And Times. “For many Cubans on both sides of the Florida straits, President Barack Obama's words tugged at emotions after decades of exile, family separations, deaths and distance. Perhaps more than anything, reactions also reflected changing views amid changing times. In Miami, Raquel García Lozano, a Cuban-American emergency-room doctor, said she was ‘very moved’ by Obama's speech. ‘I don't agree with him in a lot of things but in this case - 100 percent,’ she said. García Lozano, who came to the U.S. in the 1970s when she was 9 years old, said she did not always believe in engagement. ‘I have changed my thoughts through the years.’ That changing worldview was encapsulated in Obama's speech.” [NBC News, “Cubans, Cuban Americans Share Their Emotions After Obama’s Speech,” 3/22/16]


Editorial Reaction To Obama’s Trip

Miami Herald Editorial: Obama’s Speech Paid Respects To Cuban Exiles, Called Out Oppression Directly. “Regardless of which side of the fence you sit on regarding the administration’s new relationship with Cuba, President Obama’s speech in Havana on Tuesday will stand as one of his best. It was thoughtful, it used reverse psychology and, it did not forget Miami’s exile community. With kindness, not a big stick, President Obama told the Cuban people on television and Raúl Castro to his face that it’s imperative that he stop repressing opposing voices, stop stifling free speech and stop banning the Internet. Its tone was a stroke of genius. The Castros must be fuming — tricked by American ingenuity.” [Miami Herald Editorial, “Cuban exiles got respect in Obama’s Havana speech,” 3/22/16]

NYT Editorial: Obama’s Speech Tactfully Made The Case For A Free And Open Exchange Of Ideas In Cuba. “His message included a healthy dose of criticism and a call for change, which were delivered with both force and tact. He said President Raúl Castro, who attended the speech, ‘need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people — and their capacity to speak, and assemble, and vote for their leaders.’ He said ‘sustainable prosperity’ in the 21st century requires the ‘free and open exchange of ideas.’ Mr. Obama said that the United States was not beyond reproach, but that in a democracy, freedom to choose a nation’s leaders and freedom to speak without fear can lead to change. There is too much money in American politics, he acknowledged, and America still wrestles with the legacy of slavery and segregation. ‘But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better,’ he said.” [New York Times Editorial, “Mr. Obama’s Honest Message in Cuba,” 3/22/16]

El Nuevo Herald Editorial: “Obama, Al ‘Extender Una Mano Amiga Al Pueblo Cubano’, Como Dijo En Su Discurso, Haya Subrayado Una Vez Más El Valor De La Democracia Frente A La Opresión Del Totalitarismo.” “Ninguna sociedad es perfecta. Pero la democracia abre una vía para que los distintos segmentos que integran la sociedad expongan sus opiniones, sus protestas, sus deseos y sus sueños, y esos distintos segmentos puedan debatir y llegar a un acuerdo. Esa es la vía que no existe en Cuba desde hace décadas, y la que buscan los cubanos que protestan en las calles, pese a la represión de la policía, o que se juegan la vida en una huida desesperada hacia tierras de libertad. Castro lo sabe muy bien, y tiene que haberle molestado mucho que Obama, al ‘extender una mano amiga al pueblo cubano’, como dijo en su discurso, haya subrayado una vez más el valor de la democracia frente a la opresión del totalitarismo.” [El Nuevo Herald Editorial, “Obama le dice la verdad al pueblo de Cuba,” 3/22/16]

Chicago Tribune Editorial: Change In Cuba Will Require Patience And Ending The U.S. Embargo. “So let's be patient on how quickly change will come to Cuba: Drawing out a reluctant adversary takes time. After a 50-year standoff rooted in the Cold War, the U.S. and Cuba have restored diplomatic relations. As Obama concludes his historic three-day visit to the island on Tuesday, the two sides move on to the tricky, long-term business of daily engagement. With the Obama trip comes a significant loosening of restrictions on travel and other forms of contact. Airlines, including Chicago-based United, propose regular service. American tourists will visit. U.S.-owned hotels will open. Google has a deal to expand Internet service. In these and many other ways, America stands to influence Cuba's future. This is big progress. The next important step will be lifting the U.S. economic embargo put in place after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959. That requires patience, too. Scrapping the embargo takes an act of Congress, which will not happen in a presidential election year.” [Chicago Tribune Editorial, “Nixon, Clinton and Obama. Beijing, Hanoi and Havana.” 3/21/16]

Palm Beach Post Editorial: Congress Should Give Younger Cubans A Shot At Change By Lifting The Embargo. “We shouldn’t expect major change overnight. But opening things up will give hope to a talented, hardworking and industrious people — particularly a generation of highly educated younger Cubans who grow increasingly frustrated for change. These are the same young Cubans who hold Obama in such high regard and are pinning their hopes for the future on his efforts to persuade a reluctant Congress. There are no guarantees that lifting the embargo will bring about the change our leaders seek. But after 50 years, don’t the Cuban people deserve a shot at it?” [Palm Beach Post Editorial, “End trade embargo to see real change in Cuba,” 3/22/16]

Sacramento Bee Editorial: “It Makes Less And Less Sense To Continue The Cold War With Cuba.” “The Cuban people are thirsty for social and economic progress, and the regime can’t stop it. And while some Republicans and Cuban American hard-liners oppose Obama’s moves, it makes less and less sense to continue the Cold War with Cuba. He used his executive powers to re-establish diplomatic relations, including reopening the U.S. embassy in Havana. But only the Republican-controlled Congress can lift the trade embargo. That isn’t going to happen – and shouldn’t – until Cuba expands political, economic and social freedoms. Obama wants this opening to Cuba to be part of his legacy, but it’s not safely set in stone. His term ends in January. Castro has pledged to step down in 2018. It’s up to the next president and next Cuban leader to build on the progress so far.” [Sacramento Bee Editorial, “Obama’s historic opening to Cuba,” 3/22/16]

USA Today Editorial: Obama’s Trip To Cuba Is Truly Historic. “A lot of things are called historic, but President Obama’s trip to Cuba truly is. Never mind that Cuba’s economy is smaller than the District of Columbia's, or that the days of it posing a security threat are long over. Cuba is a country of immense symbolic importance for Americans, its image freighted with memories of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the 1962 missile crisis, and the ongoing exodus of Cubans seeking a better life in America. For nearly 60 years, its government has done two things exceptionally well: repress its own people and make a mockery of U.S. efforts to compel change through economic sanctions. And that's what makes Obama's trip so important.” [USA Today Editorial, “Obama’s historic trip to Cuba,” 3/21/16]

“This Trip Will Provide Momentum To Make These Changes Stick And To Make Further Reforms Inevitable.” “[Obama] cannot unilaterally lift sanctions embedded in a number of laws dating to the early 1960s. But he has made some much needed policy adjustments. Most recently, he loosened restrictions on banking and travel. This trip will provide momentum to make these changes stick and to make further reforms inevitable. The mere presence of a U.S. president in Havana is startling, refreshing, novel. No president has been there since Calvin Coolidge in 1928, a time when presidents visited few countries and went by battleship if they did. For those and other reasons, this visit will garner far more attention than a typical foray.” [USA Today Editorial, “Obama’s historic trip to Cuba,” 3/21/16]-


Cuba And “The Obama Effect”

AFP: Analysts Saw Obama’s Speech As Undermining Cuban Government’s Rhetoric Against The U.S. “Analysts said that by coming in peace and calling for full restoration of neighborly relations, Obama undermined the decades-old logic that helped keep the Cuban government in power as a self-declared bastion against US imperialism. And if the once unimaginable visit could be successful, ‘why not many other things?’ Hare asked. ‘The visit fuels the expectation of all Cubans that urgent change is needed in economic opportunities and the suffocating government controls. Old revolutionary rhetoric and blaming the US embargo for everything is no longer enough.’” [AFP, “Obama leaves Cuba, but Obama effect remains,” 3/22/16]

Obama Managed To Speak Directly To The Cuban People In A State Where Government Controlled The Media. “Obama's other principal achievement, analysts say, is having been allowed to speak directly to the Cuban people -- a first in a relationship long characterized by lack of communication or propaganda. That he managed to get a message across in a state where the government controls all the media was even more groundbreaking.” [AFP, “Obama leaves Cuba, but Obama effect remains,” 3/22/16]

Obama’s Speech Came After A Press Conference Where He Prodded An Uncomfortable Castro Into Taking Questions From Journalists. “The speech was a striking element of a presidential visit packed with extraordinary firsts: an American president speaking directly to Cuba’s people, in remarks that were broadcast live, as Cuba’s own president looked on. It came a day after the two leaders had another remarkable encounter, holding frank talks at the Palace of the Revolution and then spending 55 minutes answering questions from the news media. Mr. Obama prodded Mr. Castro, clearly uncomfortable being placed on the spot by journalists, to engage in a give-and-take that is a hallmark of American democracy.” [New York Times, “Obama, in Havana Speech, Says Cuba Has Nothing to Fear From U.S.,” 3/22/16]

Reuters: “Obama Threw Down A Very Public Gauntlet” Arguing That Cubans Could Not Realize Their Full Potential Without Lifting Oppression On The Island. “His speech was the high point of a 48-hour trip made possible by his agreement with Castro in December 2014 to cast aside decades of hostility that began soon after Cuba's 1959 revolution, and work to normalize relations. Nonetheless, Obama threw down a very public gauntlet to Castro, saying Cubans cannot realize their full potential if his government does not allow change and relax its grip on Cuban politics and society.” [Reuters, “Obama challenges Communist-led Cuba with call for democracy,” 3/22/16]

Obama Met With Cuban Dissidents, Praised Them For “Extraordinary Courage.” “President Barack Obama is praising a group of Cuban dissidents for showing ‘extraordinary courage.’ Obama is meeting with a group of about a dozen activists at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. He is noting that the group represented various causes and some in the room have been detained by government authorities – ‘some in the past, some very recently.’ Some have broad concerns about democracy and ‘the ability to speak freely, worship freely.’ He says: ‘It requires, often times, great courage to be active in civic life here in Cuba.’ The group includes journalist Miriam Celaya, attorney Laritza Diversent and activist Manuel Cuesta and Jose Daniel Ferrer.” [AP, “Obama Praises Courage Of Cuban Dissidents,” 3/22/16]

Politico: “The American Political Revolution On Cuba Is Already Over.” “The American political revolution on Cuba is already over. Donald Trump proudly declared he was fine with the Cuba reopening at the debate in Miami, and then went on to wallop the two candidates —both Cuban-American—who strongly opposed it in the Florida primary, just five days later. (“I don't agree with President Obama, I do agree something should take place,” Trump said.) Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both say they’re on board without any qualification. The senator carrying the bill to lift the travel ban is a Republican, the congressman carrying the bill to lift the embargo is the guy who won Michele Bachmann's old seat who says he disagrees with Obama on basically everything else. Most expect both will pass comfortably when they eventually get to the floor.” [Politico, “Obama’s Cuba policy gains new fans,” 3/21/16]