Barack Obama: The blockade is an outdated burden on the Cuban people
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With reference to a fragment of one of the best known Simple Verses of Cuba’s national hero José Martí, “I Have A White Rose To Tend”, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, began his speech before representatives of Cuban civil society.

march 24, 2016 12:03:17

President Barack Obama spoke before representatives of Cuban civil society, gathered in the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana.

With reference to a fragment of one of the best known Simple Verses of Cuba’s national hero José Martí, “I Have A White Rose To Tend”, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, began his speech before representatives of Cuban civil society, gathered in the Alicia Alonso Grand Theater of Havana, after thanking the people and government of Cuba for their warm welcome.

“It is an extraordinary honor to be here today,” the President noted, before dedicating some words to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Brussels that same morning, “The thoughts and the prayers of the American people are with the people of Belgium. We stand in solidarity with them in condemning these outrageous attacks against innocent people (…) we must be together, (…) in fighting against the scourge of terrorism.”

Obama stated that he came to Cuba to offer “el saludo de paz” (a greeting of peace), as part of a process marked by “barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation.”

During his speech, he recalled the days of the October Crisis, the attack on Playa Girón, and the decades of conflict between the U.S. and Cuba. He noted that there are differences between our peoples, but argued that we must recognize what we have in common, and mentioned the historical and cultural ties that unite both countries, including their tastes in music and sport.

“We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans. Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave-owners. We’ve welcomed both immigrants who came a great distance to start new lives in the Americas. Over the years, our cultures have blended together,” Obama stated. He recalled that the work of Dr. Carlos Finlay in Cuba “paved the way for generations of doctors, including Walter Reed, who drew on Dr. Finlay’s work to help combat Yellow Fever.”

“Just as Martí wrote some of his most famous words in New York, Ernest Hemingway made a home in Cuba, and found inspiration in the waters of these shores,” the President continued, adding, “We share a national past-time - La Pelota (baseball) - and later today our players will compete on the same Havana field that Jackie Robinson played on before he made his Major League debut. And it's said that our greatest boxer, Muhammad Ali, once paid tribute to a Cuban that he could never fight - saying that he would only be able to reach a draw with the great Cuban, Teofilo Stevenson,” Obama continued.

“The Cuban and American people share common values in their own lives. A sense of patriotism and a sense of pride (…) A profound love of family. A passion for our children, a commitment to their education,” he added, while noting the differences in terms of their forms of government, economies and societies.

“Despite these differences, on December 17, 2014, President Castro and I announced that the United States and Cuba would begin a process to normalize relations between our countries. Since then, we have established diplomatic relations and opened embassies. We've begun initiatives to cooperate on health and agriculture, education and law enforcement. We've reached agreements to restore direct flights and mail service. We've expanded commercial ties, and increased the capacity of Americans to travel and do business in Cuba,” Obama explained, adding, “And these changes have been welcomed, even though there are still opponents to these policies. But still, many people on both sides of this debate have asked: Why now? Why now? There is one simple answer: What the United States was doing was not working. We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth. A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century. The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them. And I've always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” - we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

Again speaking in Spanish momentarily, Obama stated, “Creo en el pueblo Cubano. I believe in the Cuban people. This is not just a policy of normalizing relations with the Cuban government. The United States of America is normalizing relations with the Cuban people.”

The President stressed that, “El cubano inventa del aire,” (Cubans invent things out of thin air) and highlighted “Here in Havana, we see that same talent in cuentapropistas (the self-employed), cooperatives and old cars that still run.” He recognized the Cuban education system, “which values every boy and every girl,” while noting that Cuba has begun to open up to the world, and that cuentapropistas can “innovate and adapt without losing” their identity.

Obama continued, “That’s why our policies focus on supporting Cubans, instead of hurting them. That’s why we got rid of limits on remittances - so ordinary Cubans have more resources. That’s why we’re encouraging travel - which will build bridges between our people, and bring more revenue to those Cuban small businesses. That’s why we’ve opened up space for commerce and exchanges - so that Americans and Cubans can work together to find cures for diseases, and create jobs, and open the door to more opportunity for the Cuban people.”

President Obama reiterated his position on the blockade stating, “I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people. It's a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba. It's time to lift the embargo.”

Returning to history, Obama explained, “Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” and pledged, “I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people. We will not impose our political or economic system on you. We recognize that every country, every people, must chart its own course and shape its own model.”

Again, the U.S. President quoted José Martí, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy,” adding, “So let me tell you what I believe. I can't force you to agree, but you should know what I think.”

He went on to state, “Now, there’s no secret that our governments disagree on many of these issues. I’ve had frank conversations with President Castro. For many years, he has pointed out the flaws in the American system -- economic inequality; the death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad. That’s just a sample. He has a much longer list. But here’s what the Cuban people need to understand: I welcome this open debate and dialogue. It’s good. It’s healthy. I’m not afraid of it.”

Obama added, “We do have challenges with racial bias - in our communities, in our criminal justice system, in our society - the legacy of slavery and segregation, and claimed, “But the fact that we have open debates within America’s own democracy is what allows us to get better.”

Acknowledging the enormous amount of money at play in U.S. electoral campaigns, Obama nonetheless praised U.S. democracy while recognizing that it is not perfect.

Obama stressed “no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering,” and praised the collaboration between health care workers from both countries in the fight against Ebola, adding “I believe that we should continue that kind of cooperation in other countries.”

“We’ve been on the different side of so many conflicts in the Americas. But today, Americans and Cubans are sitting together at the negotiating table, and we are helping the Colombian people resolve a civil war that’s dragged on for decades. That kind of cooperation is good for everybody. It gives everyone in this hemisphere hope. We took different journeys to our support for the people of South Africa in ending apartheid. But President Castro and I could both be there in Johannesburg to pay tribute to the legacy of the great Nelson Mandela. And in examining his life and his words, I'm sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries” Obama continued.

“We’ve been a part of different blocs of nations in the hemisphere, and we will continue to have profound differences about how to promote peace, security, opportunity, and human rights. But as we normalize our relations, I believe it can help foster a greater sense of unity in the Americas - todos somos americanos (we are all Americans),” Obama stated.

The U.S President concluded, “The history of the United States and Cuba encompass revolution and conflict; struggle and sacrifice; retribution and, now, reconciliation. It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind. It is time for us to look forward to the future together - un futuro de esperanza (a future of hope). And it won’t be easy, and there will be setbacks. It will take time. But my time here in Cuba renews my hope and my confidence in what the Cuban people will do. We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family - together. Sí se puede (Yes, we can).”

Granma International