Obama and Cuban myths debunked
YESENIA FERNÁNDEZ SELIER | Nueva York | 5 Abr 2016 – 12:30 pm.
Without any shots, threats or military invasions, the US’s 44th
president, Barack Hussein Obama, arrived in and departed from Cuba.
Cubans all over were glued to their screens, engaging in the inevitable
debate about his visit’s motivations and, more recently, its effects.
Beyond the images and speeches, the end of antagonism with the “restless
and brutal north” has rattled, like an invisible earthquake, the myths
upon which our national narratives have been based. Among them: Cuba-US
relations and the role assigned to non-whites in the national ideology,
and the coalition under which the nation has been defined.
Cuban patriots, from Saco to the Castros, have understood our proximity
to the United States as the crux of our political and economic destiny.
Panic about the island becoming another Haiti, along with the criollo
elite’s aspirations for greater commercial and freedoms, made an
alliance with the north attractive to 19th-century Cuban capitalists.
The US stood out as a beacon of modernity in the industrialized world,
while the Spanish Empire was faltering, the Latin American nations
independent and exhibiting a resentful spite for new forms of dissent,
internal and external.
The wars of independence and the first great Cuban exodus to the US led
to an understanding of the specific possibilities and threats posed by
the growing empire. The threat was fully manifested by the US invasion
of 1898, and the interventionist guarantee embodied by the Platt
Amendment in 1901. Protests by patriots like Juan Gualberto Gómez,
Enrique José Varona, Rubén Martínez Villena and Julio Antonio Mella
bolstered the anti-imperialist school of thought founded by José Martí.
The invocation of this anti-imperialist tradition has been vital to the
nationalist narrative of the Cuban revolution, and instrumental in
galvanizing an international coalition with the socialist camp,
liberation movements in Africa, and the international Left.
But now the north has landed at Jose Martí airport. The absence of Raúl
Castro at the foot of the ladder which Obama descended illustrated the
tensions under which vessel of reconciliation has set sail. Much to the
dismay of my former professor of Defense Preparedness, the island did
not run for shelter. Despite the joint “securities,” the people flooded
the streets and crowded at their windows and balconies, overcome with
unbridled joy and emotion. Thus far Obama’s doctrine towards Cuba
appears to have suspended the interventionism endorsed by the Monroe
Doctrine. Under a charismatic aura of diplomacy, the new “soft power” is
obviously rooted in more subtle and responsive reasoning, one stemming
from geopolitics and contemporary capitalism. Our nationalist rhetoric
was not prepared for this. And Barack Hussein Obama forges ahead,
unflappable, despite our demands, our crises and our political insults.
Obama has been dealing with the scrutiny of his detractors ever since
the commencement of his candidacy for the presidency. There has been
plenty of racism, with his ability to govern being called into question,
an affiliation with Islam being alleged, and the veracity of his birth
certificate being questioned. Inaugurated as the president of the most
powerful nation on earth, his rhetoric on the matter has been contained,
but this has cannot be said of his vision. The first family has
projected an impeccable image of respectability, without sacrificing
their identification with the US’s black culture and the Diaspora. As a
newcomer to the White House, and not without controversy, Obama replaced
the bust of Winston Churchill for one of Martin Luther King. At numerous
social galas, not only have the Obamas celebrated the excellence of
black painters, musicians and dancers, but have made doing so
The Obama family’s decolonizing efforts could not have been complete
without visiting Cuba, where the political castration of blacks has been
part and parcel of the national education program. Blacks created wealth
for white criollos, wielded machetes against the Spaniards, and were
butchered in still unknown numbers in 1906 and in 1912, closing with
blood a century of struggle for civil rights in the framework of the
nation. And the alleged eradication of racism under the revolutionary
doctrine has not prevented the black man, as a figure, from remaining a
symbol of barbarism, ignorance and national ridicule.
Inside and outside Cuba the aggrieved used Obama’s black body to exhibit
their criollo class of racism, and we saw him parading in memes and
cartoons as the rumba-dancing black, the black musician, the black
congo, and the black coachman. Racist caricatures remain commonplace
forms of offense, as we were recently reminded by an article in the
Tribuna de La Habana “Negro, tú eres sueco?” [“Blackie, are you Swedish?”]
Fortunately, Obama does not need a Swedish passport to shop at a very
expensive boutique, as he simply embodies the power of the most powerful
empire on earth. However, all that power could not conceal his
down-to-earth nature. His controversial and informal “Qué volá” (How are
you?) left an amicable echo wafting through the air of the city’s most
run-down neighborhoods, those harboring most of the black population.
Obama danced the tango in Argentina, but did not dance in Cuba, nor
smoke cigars. Instead, he visited a family restaurant owned by a black
family, poorly represented in the new middle class, and called for
greater participation by Afro-Cubans in the new economic plans.
According to the tenets of criollo racism, a Cuban mulatto would not go
to Harvard to marry a poor woman darker than himself. Obama, according
to this perverse logic, is at least a paradoxical mulatto, which in
English calls us to a new national coalition. Through Babalú, St.
Lazarus, Jesus Christ and the divine intervention of the Holy Father,
the 44th US President appeals to older and perhaps more appealing
beliefs than political ones. No wonder Marx called it “the opium of the
masses.” According to the Obama Doctrine, with that opium it is possible
to establish a new, imagined community, a new brotherhood with more
affinities than differences, with more affection and less rancor. Since
its first tweet, or his choosing an eatery in a humble neighborhood to
have dinner with his family, it was clear that he was more interested in
the people than protocol. So, he sat down at the table of the comedian
Pánfilo, a character associated with rationing cards, to play dominoes
and let him win.
Obama’s political jujitsu, with his speeches in Havana, featured a range
of appeals calling for a New Cuba. His own personal history demonstrated
by itself the need for protest and dissent. “When my parents met they
could not have married in many states in my own country. But, thanks to
dissenters like Martin Luther King and others, I have been able to
become the US president.” His unhesitant inclusion of Cuba’s exiles and
dissidents as necessary and indispensable players in the nation’s future
unfortunately puts to shame a regime that has buried its humanity under
slogans and uniforms.
Source: Obama and Cuban myths debunked | Diario de Cuba –