President Obama’s visit to Cuba, and the recent efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, give us a chance to both learn about and appreciate the Cuban revolution and see even clearer the U.S.’ role in the world.
Cuba, like the U.S., was founded by European explorers who subsequently eliminated the native populations and then brought Africans against their will to work the land as chattel slaves. Cotton was the money crop for the U.S. slave owners, sugar was what enriched the early Cuban colonists.
Cuba, like the U.S., started as a colony and fought a war to free itself from Spanish control, led by one the most famous and stalwart freedom fighters in Latin American history, Jose Marti. Cuba was liberated from Spain in 1898 as a result of losing the Spanish American war, but it still remain occupied by the U.S. for years to come.
The U.S. has consistently invaded and interfered with the affairs of Cuba since the Spanish American war, and the U.S.’ Monroe Doctrine basically said that the U.S. had a right to control what happens in the Western Hemisphere.
As Obama admitted in his speech, before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit: ignored poverty, enabled corruption. Since overthrowing the dictator Falencion Batista in a revolution in 1959, Cuba has been under attack from the U.S. as it strove to make real changes in its society. The Cubans succeeded in bringing education, healthcare and dignity to everyone.
“Every child deserves the dignity that comes with education, health care and food on the table, and a roof over their heads,” said President Obama in his speech. While Obama pontificated about it, Cuba has actually done it.
The Cubans, while a long way from building a utopia, panacea, or the perfect society, have made incredible strides in educating its people. In fact, while the U.S. continues with a two-tiered educational system that under-educates much of its urban population, the Cubans have excelled.
Obama acknowledged as much in his speech: “Cuba has an extraordinary resource, a system of education which values every boy and every girl,” said Obama.
While the U.S. still struggles with racial inequality, which Obama admitted to as well, the Cubans have made real strides in this area. Still, old habits die hard, and some Blacks still find themselves ghettoized, and the Castilian attitudes that view Whites as superior to Afro-Cubans still remain among some.
While Cuban socialism is built on the importance of the group and the community, U.S. society has been built on the so-called rights of the individual. I say so-called because though humans have the right to food and shelter in the U.S., people go hungry every day, and too many make their beds under bridges.
Cubans communalism and internationalism have contrasted with the U.S. Whereas the U.S. foreign aid is cynical in that it is always done with an eye toward influencing and sometimes dominating the country aided, Cuba has practiced a real altruistic internationalism. They have given and sacrificed without expecting anything in return.
The U.S. president was absolutely right when he said, “We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending Apartheid.” The U.S., led by the Reagan Administration, actually coddled the racist government at the time, engaging in a cynical policy they called “Constructive Engagement.” It was the citizens of the U.S. that opposed Apartheid with divestment campaigns and community and campus protests in support of a free South Africa.
Also, while the president claimed that the U.S. and Cuba responded to the Ebola crisis in West Africa — particularly Liberia and Sierra Leone — it was Cuba that sent medical personnel. The U.S. sent troops while trying to contain the disease rather than help West Africans eradicate it.
Normalizing relations doesn’t allows us to teach Cuba, it allows us to be able to learn from the Cubans.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.