Lessons from Obama’s historic visit to Cuba

The historic visit of United States (U.S.) President, Barack Obama in March 2016 to the small Caribbean Island of Cuba amid high expectation and anxiety, has helped to cast aside decades of hostility that began soon after Cuba’s 1959 revolution. The three-day visit, the first by a U.S. President since 1928, is the culmination of a diplomatic opening announced by Obama and the Cuban President Raul Castro in December 2014, ending an estrangement that began when the Cuban revolution ousted a pro-American government in 1959. It followed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Washington and Havana, and the re-opening of the U.S. embassy in Cuba. Travel restrictions have also been eased on Americans traveling to the island nation. However, a U.S. embargo against Cuba still remains in place. Obama said during his visit that he hoped the US Congress would soon scrap the trade restrictions. By extending a “hand of friendship,” Obama has “buried the last remnant” of the Cold War in the Americas. This historic diplomatic opening between Washington and Havana has no doubt become a watershed in America’s foreign policy experience.

Flash back to July 4, 1776 when George Washington (First American President) appointed Benjamin Franklin (a renowned polymath and politician) John Adams (Vice President under George Washington and Second President of the United States), and Thomas Jefferson (Vice President under John Adams and third President of the U.S.) were appointed as a committee to prepare a Seal of the United States of America. Various suggestions were offered. It is significant that these American patriots and Founding Fathers found in the Bible those symbols that would unite and interpret their people’s experience. The Latin on the Seal – found today on United States currency, roughly translated would be: One out of many –(God) has smiled on our undertakings ¬ 1776 – a new order of (or for) the ages. It is the rhetoric of a revolution. No event marked “a new order of the ages” more clearly than the thawing of the frosty relations between U.S. and Cuba. These phrases capture the spirit and new beginning posited by the American Revolution, after being liberated from the monarchic rule of England.

Seven lessons are easily discernible from President’s Obama’s visit to Cuba.

Lesson 1: Obama’s trip to Cuba shows his humility and his determination to make the deal work. Ordinarily, one would have expected Cuba being the smaller country to jump at the deal and be the first to visit America.

Lesson 2: The thawing of relations between the two countries after 53 years of cold war shows that no matter how hatred may appear to linger, love will eventually triumph over hatred; Good will always overcome evil. And light will always displace darkness.

Lesson 3: Imposition of embargo may not work in all cases. It can only hurt the silent majority, and not the ruling class. In fact, it can only help to harden a totalitarian regime without achieving its intended purpose. Cubans have continued to survive the embargo leading to decades of mistrust and animosity.

Lesson 4: Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him your friend.” It is better to “jaw jaw” than to “war war,” meaning that it is better to dialogue than to resort to violence. It is better to seek peace than war.
Lesson 5: Both Obama and Raul Castro took advantage of the Pope’s mediatory and reconciliatory moves as an instrument of peace that led to the opening of relations unlike the Stalinists of former Soviet Union who ignored the Pope’s plea for mercy for the Kulaks and blandly remarked while they were liquidating them, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.”

It is always good to listen to the voice of reason.

Lesson 6: The high sovereign risk from either side shows that both countries are geographically peripheral and strategically vulnerable to external aggression when it is considered that a stone-throw distance of 90 miles or 145 kilometres separates them, especially when history reminds us of the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, a 13-day confrontation between the U.S. and Communist Russia concerning Soviet ballistic missiles deployment in Cuba which would have been very cataclysmic if not for the timely intervention of President John Kennedy of blessed memory.

Lesson 7: It is expected that the full normalisation of relations should lead the government of Cuba to shed its communist toga so that its citizens should be able to speak their mind on issues that affect them. Obama underscored this point in his speech when he said: “People should be able to criticise their government and choose those who govern them in free and democratic elections. They should also speak their minds without fear.”

As our beloved St. Pope John Paul once counseled: “Forgiveness may seem like weakness, but it demands great spiritual strength and moral courage, both in granting it and in accepting it. It may seem in some way to diminish us, but in fact, it leads us to a fuller and richer humanity, more radiant with the splendour of the Creator.” It may interest us to know that Hussein (answered both by Arab Christians and Moslems) means “beauty” and Barack is an African name meaning “blessing.” It is a form of both the Hebrew name Baruch and the Arabic name Mubarak which also means “blessed” and relates to the Arabic Barakah. And Obama is the combination of the two. Obama made history by being the first American President to visit Cuba in 93 years. Will the next American President govern America with the same “beauty” and “blessing” and build bridges across divides?”

Well, “Blessed are the peace makers for they shall be called the children of God,” the Good Book says. America which prides itself as God’s own country and its motto “In God we Trust” should be seen to be advancing the course of global peace.

•Isu, an accountant, lives in Abuja.

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