Obama maintained that the blockade will end, but we do not know when. Obama would like for it to end by an act of Congress before he finishes his term.
Obama affirmed that the destiny of the Cuban political, economic and cultural system is in the hands of Cubans. However, he observed that the United States always is committed to disseminating its ideas with respect to democracy and human rights throughout the world. He believes that it is best for the United States to defend its democratic ideas in all nations of the world without imposing democratic structures on other nations. He believes that democratic structures must be created by the people of each nation.
However, in response to questions from the press, Obama observed that the speed with which Congress acts will be effected by the extent to which Cuban-US differences with respect to democracy are resolved. The President could be correct, for some members of the Congress are calling for concessions from the Cuban side in exchange for the normalization of relations. However, delaying or withholding the ending of the blockade until Cuba changes its approach to human rights will not effect Cuban behavior, inasmuch as Cuba has held firm to its convictions in the face of the economic coercion of the blockade for the past fifty-three years; and Cuba remains firmly committed, now that the US has admitted that the blockade has failed, and Cuba has the overwhelming support of the nations of the world. In any event, such a strategy by the Congress would be economic coercion, inconsistent with the approach of persuasion outlined by the President.
In his prepared comments, Obama noted that Cuba stresses the rights of all to education and health care, which he supports, but he maintains that, however admirable, these achievements cannot compensate for shortcomings in the area of political and civil rights. But Obama has an erroneous interpretation of the Cuban perspective. When Cubans address the theme of human rights, they focus on education and health care, because they are enormously proud of their achievements in these fields, and they believe that these are the most important human rights, and that therefore these gains establish Cuba as the most advanced nation in the world with respect to human rights. But they also speak of political and civil rights, and they defend their political process as democratic and as respecting the rights of its citizens. They have freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to vote in a political process that is not distorted by money, and which has a quality of public discourse and debate higher than that of other nations, especially the United States. It is not a question of Cuba denying political and civil rights; rather, it is a question of having developed an alternative political process with different structures. Cuba believes that it has developed a more advanced political system with a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of democracy; a system that is more oriented to protection of the rights of the popular sectors and poor nations, rather than the dominating class and the rich nations. Cuba maintains that the principle of sovereignty requires the United States to accept that it has a right to develop its own form of democracy, consistent with its history, culture, and needs; a history that is unique, but is consistent with the general pattern of the colonized and underdeveloped nations of the world (see “Cuba, United States, and human rights” 4/9/2015; “Cuba and the Civil Society Debate” 4/13/2015).
Obama also indicated that the ending of the blockade is now in the hands of Congress, except for technical details in changes in the regulations of the blockade made by the Obama administration to date. Perhaps he intends to do no more than what he has done. From a Cuban point of view, what he has done is appreciated, but it is not enough. The Obama administration has made few changes in the blockade, and many anti-governmental y aggressive measures against Cuba remain intact, in violation of international law and the political will of nearly all the nations of the world. And the changes that have been made are selective, designed to promote US efforts to change Cuba. They are changes that Cuba describes as politically motivated. And Cuba maintains that Obama has the presidential authority to do more, especially if the administration were to be oriented to benefitting all of Cuban society, and not merely the private sector and the miniscule sector of civil society that is anti-governmental.
Cuba maintains that the United States should desist in its efforts to change Cuba. As Josefina Vidal, chief of the US affairs section of the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, expressed in an interview on CNN, “We should proceed on a basis in which we do not try to change you, and you do not try to change us.” This expresses well the meaning of the sovereignty of nations. It is legitimate for a nation to try to disseminate its ideas through reason and dialogue, but not to coerce other nations to change through the application of military force and economic pressure, justifying its coercive measures through ideological manipulation.
Key words: Obama, Cuba, democracy, human rights, embargo, normalization