Trinidad and Tobago Express
Analysis by Rickey Singh
Sunday, May 11th 2008
As President George W Bush was hurling his latest political insult at Cuba last week, it was becoming increasingly evident that Barack Obama is not only set to emerge in November as the first Black American President, but become the first US Head of State to meet with President Raul Castro - brother of the legendary Fidel Castro.
With the seismic shift in presidential electoral politics occurring in the US, the small Caribbean nation of Cuba 90 miles away from the world's sole superpower appears destined to have a different kind of confirmation of Fidel Castro's memorable prophesy that "history will absolve me", in the revolution he set on course back in 1959 and when, finally, the mighty US ceases to blind itself to the Cuban reality in this first decade of the 21st century..
Do not expect miracles following an expected meeting of Obama as President with Raul Castro - whether, in Havana or Washington, once the young charismatic senator from Illinois becomes the new tenant in The White House in January 2009.
For, with his constant promise to give a significantly new meaning to the "politics of change in America", Obama can hardly ignore the challenge that Cuba presents as part of making that "change" a reality.
In signalling his own fundamental break with the past in terms of years of anti-Castro politics by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) he leads, Prime Minister Bruce Golding returned home last week from an official visit to Cuba and has been speaking of new approaches in Cuba-Jamaica relations for mutual benefits.
The title of an editorial in last Wednesday's Jamaica Observer spoke volumes: "Golding buries Seaga-era Cuban policy", it declared, as the text reflected on the previous hostile relations that existed while the former JLP leader and ex-prime minister, Edward Seaga (now in retirement) was in charge.
Seaga was also one of the closest of Caricom allies with successive Republican administrations-beyond the US military invasion of Grenada in 1983.
Speaking last Wednesday in Washington at a meeting of the Council of the Americas, President Bush mocked as "empty gestures" new measures introduced by President Raul Castro to improve living conditions for Cubans, including freedom to purchase commodities hitherto out of reach; staying at same hotels like foreign visitors; and having access to more land to increase food production and market their produce.
For President Bush, "Cuba's change in leadership has not changed the way it (the government) treats the Cuban people...the regime has made empty gestures at reform but Cuba is still ruled by the same group that has
oppressed them for half a century.."
Bush also returned to his familar position in demanding "release of political prisoners" and for the holding of "free and fair elections...".
Truth is, the world is quite familiar with the fundamental difference in the governance systems in the US and Cuba. It is also familiar with the reality of Bush's own policies that account for the gross human rights violations of political prisoners by America at Guantanamo.
Nor should it be forgotten how George Bush was defeated by Al Gore by more than half a million popular votes at the 2000 election, but ended up being President by a single casting vote of then US Chief Justice William Rehnquist to halt a recount of the votes in Florida.
Those who advocate free and fair elections-to which all Caricom states correctly subscribe-must not ignore how George Walker Bush became President of the US. In this context, it may also be instructive for all friends of the US to carefully monitor developments to flow from last month's majority ruling by the US Supreme Court in support of voter IDs at elections.
The ruling, which upheld an Indiana law, could have serious negative consequence for Democratic voters, especially of the Black American and Hispanic communities, according to reports in leading US media.
The Inter-Press Service (IPS) in a report on April 28 titled "US Supreme Court gives Republicans a boost", also quoted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat) as decrying that, "The court's decision places obstacles to the fundamental right, especially the poor, the elderly and individual with disabilities,to participate in the electoral process..."
Confronted with the challenges of their own governance system, the Cuban government of President Raul Castro would hardly be sidetracked by President Bush's latest jibe about "empty gestures" by a dictatorial regime in Havana.
Not since President Dwight Eisenhower imposed a most unique punitive economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba in February 1962, has there been a meeting of a President of the US and Cuba, which has sucessfully defied for 46 years endless attempts by successive Washington administrations to suffocate its revolution and have Fidel Castro cry to "Uncle Sam".
In contrast to her Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, an intellectually challenging, charming and tenacious candidate, continues to engage in a words game on engagement with Castro's Cuba.
Obama, on the other hand, went on record last February in a televised debate to tell America and the world that he would "move quickly" toward a meeting with President Castro's replacement.
This position, unique for a US presidential candidate, was consistent with Obama's previously expressed commitment to hold direct talks with controversial world leaders of nations such as Syria and Iran, viewed as hostile to the US.
While the very articulate Hillary Clinton engages in a word game about wanting to first see "evidence of change in Cuba" (a reference to the Cuban political system) before commiting herself to a meeting, as president, with her Cuban counterpart, Obama, has declared with characteristic eloquence:
"If we (presidential candidates) think that meeting with the Cuban President is a privilege that has to be earned (by him), I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world..."
Now, some four months later and with greater momentum building for his presidential campaign, there seems good cause to keep watch for a Barack Obama/ Raul Castro meeting.
The optimism would be greater should the Democrats end up with a historic and formidable Obama/Clinton ticket for November.