Obama's visit to Cuba: A long, difficult road lies ahead to reach normalisation
Granma Editorial | Thursday, 10 March 2016 | Click here for original article
The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, will make an official visit to Cuban this coming March 20-22.
This will be the second time a U.S. President comes to our archipelago. Previously having done so was Calvin Coolidge, who landed in Havana in January of 1928. He arrived aboard a warship to attend the 6th Pan American Conference, which was held at that time under the sponsorship of a local figure recalled as infamous, Gerardo Machado.
This will be the first time a President of the United States comes to a Cuba in full possession of her sovereignty and with a Revolution in power, headed by its historic leadership.
This event is part of the process initiated December 17, 2014, when the President of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, and President Barack Obama simultaneously announced the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations, broken by the United States almost 54 years ago. It is part of the complex process of normalization of bilateral ties, which has barely begun, and has advanced on the only grounds that are possible and just: respect, equality, reciprocity, and the recognition of our government’s legitimacy.
This point has been reached, in the very first place, as a result of the Cuban people’s heroic resistance and loyalty to principles, the defense of national independence and sovereignty. Such values, which have not been negotiable for 50 years, led the United States government to admit the severe damage the blockade has caused our population, and recognize the failure of the openly hostile policy toward the Revolution. Not with force, economic coercion, or isolation were they able to impose conditions on Cuba which were contrary to our aspirations, forged over almost 150 years of heroic struggle.
The current process undertaken with the United States has been possible also thanks to unwavering international solidarity, in particular from the governments and peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, who put the United States in an unsustainable position of isolation. Strongly united, “like silver in the bedrock of the Andes,” as our national hero José Martí said in his essay “Our America,” Latin America and the Caribbean demanded a change in policy toward Cuba. This regional demand was made unequivocally clear at the Summits of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, and in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2012, when all countries of the region unanimously and categorically demanded the lifting of the blockade, and our country’s participation in the 7th hemispheric meeting in Panama, in 2015, to which a Cuban delegation, led by Raúl, attended, for the first time.
Since the announcements of December, 2014, Cuba and the United States have taken steps toward improving the bilateral context.
On July 20, 2015, diplomatic relations were officially reestablished, along with the commitment to develop them on the basis of respect, cooperation, and observance of the principles of international law.
Two meetings between the Presidents of the countries have taken place, in addition to the exchange of visits by ministers and other contacts between high ranking officials. Cooperation in various areas of mutual benefit are advancing, and new opportunities for discussion have opened up, allowing for dialogue on issues of bilateral and multi-lateral interest, including those about which we have different conceptions.
The U.S. President will be welcomed by the government of Cuba and its people with the hospitality which distinguishes us, and will be treated with all consideration and respect, as befits a head of state.
This will be an opportunity for the President to directly observe a nation immersed in its economic and social development, and in improving its citizens’ wellbeing. This people enjoys rights, and can exhibit achievements which are only dreams for many of the world’s countries, despite the limitations derived from our condition as an underdeveloped, blockaded country - which has earned us international recognition and respect.
Figures of international renown such as Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill described this island, in their joint statement released in Havana in February, as “a symbol of hope of the New World.” French President François Hollande recently affirmed, “Cuba is respected and heard throughout Latin America,” and praised the country’s capacity for resistance in the face of the most difficult tests. South African leader Nelson Mandela always had words of profound gratitude for Cuba. In Matanzas, on July 26, 1991, he said, “Those of us in Africa are accustomed to being victims of other countries who want to seize our territory or subvert our sovereignty. In the history of Africa, there is no other example of a people (like the Cuban) who have come to the defense of one of us.”
Obama will find himself in a country which actively contributes to regional and world peace and stability, and which shares with other peoples not what we have left over, but the modest resources we possess, making solidarity an essential element of our identity, and humanity’s wellbeing - one of the fundamental objectives of our international policy, as Martí imparted to us.
He will also have the opportunity to meet a noble, friendly, dignified people with an elevated sense of patriotism and national unity, who have always struggled for a better future, despite the adversities we have been obliged to face.
The President of the United States will be received by a revolutionary people with a deeply-rooted political culture, which is the result of a long tradition of struggle for its true, definitive independence, first against Spanish colonialism and later against imperialist domination by the United States – a struggle in which our best sons and daughters have shed their blood and faced all manner of risks. A people who will never renounce the defense of their principles and the vast work of the Revolution, following without vacillation the examples of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Julio Antonio Mella, Rubén Martínez Villena, Antonio Guiteras and Ernesto Che Guevara, among many others.
This is also a people united by historical, cultural and affective ties with that of the United States, whose emblematic figure, the writer Ernest Hemingway, received the Nobel Prize for literature for a novel set in Cuba. A people which shows its gratitude to those from the United States who, like Thomas Jordan , Henry Reeve, Winchester Osgood  and Frederick Funston , fought with the Liberation Army in our wars of independence against Spain; and those who in the more recent era have opposed aggression against Cuba, like Reverend Lucius Walker who defied the blockade to bring solidarity and help to our people, and supported the return to the homeland of the boy Elián González and the Cuban Five. We learned from Martí to admire the homeland of Lincoln and repudiate Cutting .
Worth recalling are the words of the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Comandante en Jefe Fidel Castro Ruz, on September 11, 2001, when he affirmed, “Today is a day of tragedy for the United States. You know very well that hate for the U.S. people has never been sowed here. Perhaps, precisely because of its culture, and lack of complexes, feeling fully free, with a homeland and no master, Cuba is the country where U.S. citizens are treated with more respect. We have never preached any kind of national hate, or things that seem fanatical, that is why we are so strong, because we base our conduct on principles, on ideas, and treat every U.S. citizens who visits us with great respect – and they perceive this.”
This is the people who will receive President Obama, proud of their history, their roots, their national culture, and confident that a better future is possible. A nation that assumes with serenity and determination the current stage of relations with the United States, that recognizes the opportunities, as well as the unresolved problems between the two countries.
The President of the United States’ visit will be an important step in the process of normalization of bilateral relations. It must be remembered that Obama, as James Carter did previously, has decided to work toward normalization of ties with Cuba making use of his executive powers, and has consequently taken concrete action in this direction.
Nevertheless, a long, difficult road lies ahead to reach normalisation, which will require the solution of key issues which have accumulated over more than five decades, and entrenched the confrontational character of relations between the two countries. Such problems are not resolved overnight, or with a Presidential visit.
To normalise relations with the United States, it is imperative that the economic, commercial, financial blockade - which causes the Cuba people hardship, and is the principal obstacle to our country’s development - be lifted.
Worthy of recognition are President Obama’s reiterated position that the blockade must be eliminated and his call on Congress to lift it. This is also a demand supported by a growing majority of the U.S. public, and almost unanimously by the international community, which on 24 occasions, in the United Nations General Assembly, has approved the Cuban resolution “The necessity of putting an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America on Cuba.”
The U.S. President has taken steps to modify the implementation of some aspects of the blockade, which is positive. High ranking officials of his administration have said that others are being studied. Nevertheless, it has not been possible to implement a good portion of these measures given their limited reach, and because of the continuing existence of other regulations, and the intimidating effect of the blockade as a whole, which has been strictly enforced for 50 years.
It is contradictory that, on the one hand, the government adopts these measures, and on the other, intensifies sanctions against Cuba which affect the daily life of our people.
Reality continues to show that the blockade is being maintained, and is rigorously enforced, with a notable extra-territorial reach, which has a chilling effect on companies and banks in the United States and other countries.
Exemplifying this are the multi-million dollar fines which continue to be levied on U.S. companies and banking institutions, and those of other nationalities, for having relations with Cuba; the denial of services and the blocking of financial operations of international banks with our country; and the freezing of legitimate transfers of funds to and from Cuba, including those in currencies other than the U.S dollar.
The Cuban people hope that the U.S. President’s visit will serve to consolidate his will to be actively involved in a thorough debate in Congress for the lifting of the blockade, and, in the meantime, that he continues to use his executive prerogatives to modify as much as possible its application, without the need for legislative action.
Other issues which are damaging Cuban sovereignty must also be resolved in order to achieve normal relations between the two countries. Territory occupied by the U.S. Naval base in Guantánamo, against the will of our government and people, must be returned to Cuba, to respect the unanimous wish of Cubans, expressed for more than 100 years. Interventionist programs, intended to provoke destabilizing situations and changes in our country’s political, economic, social order, must be eliminated. The “regime change” policy must be definitively interred.
At the same time, the pretension of fabricating a domestic political opposition, supported by money from U.S. contributors, must be abandoned. An end must be put to aggressive radio and television broadcasts directed toward Cuba in open violation of international law, and the illegitimate use of telecommunications for political purposes, recognizing that the goal is not to exercise a given influence on Cuban society, but to put technology at the service of development and knowledge.
The preferential migratory treatment our citizens receive, in accordance with the Cuban Adjustment Act and the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, causes the loss of human life, and encourages illegal emigration and trafficking in persons, in addition to generating problems for third countries. This situation must be changed, as must be canceled the “parole” program for Cuban medical professionals which deprives the country of human resources vital to the health of our people, and affects the intended beneficiaries of Cuban cooperation with nations which need our support. Likewise, policies which require Cuban athletes to break ties with their country, in order to play in U.S. leagues, must change.
These policies of the past are incongruent with the new stage which the United States government has initiated with our country. They were all established prior to the administration of President Obama, but he can modify some of them with executive decisions, and eliminate others entirely.
Cuba has assumed the construction of a new relationship with the United States, fully exercising its sovereignty and committed to its ideals of social justice and solidarity. No one can presume that to do so we must renounce a single one of our principles, concede an inch in their defense, or abandon what is declared in our Constitution: “Economic, diplomatic relations with any other state can never be negotiated under aggression, threats, or coercion by a foreign power.”
Not even the slightest doubt can be harbored with respect to Cuba’s unconditional commitment to its revolutionary and anti-imperialist ideals, and its foreign policy in favor of the world’s just causes, the defense of peoples’ self-determination, and traditional support to our sister countries.
As was expressed in the latest Revolutionary Government Declaration, our solidarity is, and will be, immutable, with the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the government led by President Nicolás Maduro, and the Bolivarian, Chavista people, which are struggling to find their own path, and confront systematic destabilization attempts and unilateral sanctions established by an unfounded, unjust U.S. Executive Order, in March of 2015, which was condemned throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. The announcement made this past March 3, extending the so-called “National Emergency” and the sanctions, is an unacceptable, direct intervention in the internal affairs of Venezuela and its sovereignty. The Order must be abolished, and this will be a firm, ongoing demand by Cuba.
As Army General Raúl Castro said, “We will not renounce our ideals of independence and social justice, or surrender even a single one of our principles, or concede a millimeter in the defense of our national sovereignty.
We will not allow ourselves to be pressured in regards to our internal affairs. We have won this sovereign right with great sacrifices and at the cost of great risks.”
We reiterate one more time, we have reached this point as a result of our convictions, and because we have reason and justice on our side.
Cuba reaffirms its will to advance in relations with the United States, on the basis of respect for the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and the principles of the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the region’s heads of state and government, which include absolute respect for independence, sovereignty, and the inalienable right of every state to choose its own political, economic, social and cultural system without interference of any kind; in addition to equality, and reciprocity.
Cuba reiterates its full disposition to maintain respectful dialogue with the government of the United States, and develop relations of civilized coexistence.
Coexisting does not mean being obliged to renounce the ideas in which we believe and have brought us thus far, or our socialism, our history, our culture.
The profound conceptual differences between Cuba and the United States on political models, social justice, international relations, world peace and stability, among others, will persist.
Cuba defends the indivisibility, interdependence and universality of civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights. We are convinced that it is an obligation of governments to defend and guarantee the right to health, education, social security, equal pay for equal work, the rights of children, as well as the right to food and development. We reject the political manipulation and double standards relating to human rights, which must end. Cuba, which has signed 44 international instruments on this subject, while the United States has only committed to 18, has much to share, to defend, and show.
What our ties with the United States should accomplish is that the two countries respect their differences, and create a relationship which is beneficial for both peoples.
Regardless of the progress which can be achieved in ties with the United States, the Cuban people will continue to move forward. With our own efforts and proven capacity and creativity, we will continue to work for the country’s development and the wellbeing of Cubans. We will not desist in the demand that the blockade, which has caused and causes so much harm, be lifted. We will persevere in the process of updating the socio-economic model we have chosen, and the construction of a prosperous, sustainable socialism to consolidate the gains to the Revolution.
A path sovereignly chosen, which will surely be reaffirmed by the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, with Fidel and Raúl victorious.
This is the Cuba which will respectfully welcome President Obama.
 Major General, head of the Liberation Army’s General Staff (1869).
 Comandante. Killed in combat during the siege of Guáimaro, October 28, 1896.
 Artillery Colonel, under the command of Calixto García.
 A figure who in 1886 promoted hate and aggression against Mexico.