The Cuba Visit, In Context

This is not a political blog but I’m Cuban so what can I say, I woke up like this.

Political conversations are just part of your DNA when you’re Cuban – you can blame or thank Castro for that.

The Rolling Stones performed for free in Cuba last night.

Rolling Stones in Cuba

A local newscaster reported that their music and Rock & Roll in general was once “discouraged” in Cuba. The truth is that it was once banned and considered counter revolutionary, a grave if not criminal offense.

I am hopeful that Obama’s somewhat awkward but well-intentioned move towards normalizing relations with Cuba will have a positive effect, in time, but until then let’s not downplay the Cuban government’s history of and continued oppression of its people – Cubans are not free.

Obama and Raul

Real change can only happen when we challenge the real problems, that said here are a few points from Obama’s Speech that need additional context:

Read the full transcript of his speech at Voice of America News.

Obama: “. . .People in both of our countries have sung along with Celia Cruz or Gloria Estefan, and now listen to reggaeton or Pitbull.” (Laughter.)

Celia Cruz, Salsa Music, Afro Cuban

Not so fast: The music of Celia Cruz, Gloria Estefan and several other great Cuban musicians and artists who left the island has been banned in Cuba for decades. In 2012 there were reports that the “unofficial ban” was lifted but there have been conflicting reports on this.


Obama: “Millions of our people share a common religion — a faith that I paid tribute to at the Shrine of our Lady of Charity in Miami, a peace that Cubans find in La Cachita.”


Not so fast: The communist party continues to regulate all aspects of religious life in Cuba through the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA). Any religious group that is not authorized by the ORA is subject to harassment including violence. Recent reports show that Protestant groups are experiencing more harassment of late and many are considered politically subversive.

Obama: “Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. (Applause.)  And in recent years, the Cuban government has begun to open up to the world, and to open up more space for that talent to thrive.”

Havana University

Not so fast: This article in The Atlantic gives a great explanation of a why a free education isn’t always as free as you think. Especially when limited resources mean the government has to approve every single applicant for higher education.


Obama: “I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — (applause) — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. (Applause.)”

Dissident Arrested

Tell me about it: A reported 304 dissidents in Cuba were arrested in the days and hours before Obama landed in Havana. Every week, the “Damas en Blanco” (Ladies in White) the wives of political prisoners are arrested for peacefully protesting. Obama’s visit did not disrupt the routine.


Obama: “We’ve played very different roles in the world. But no one should deny the service that thousands of Cuban doctors have delivered for the poor and suffering.” (Applause.)

Cuban Doctors Abroad

Not so fast:  To be sure Cuban doctors have served in some of the poorest countries in the world however,  they are working under close supervision,  in dangerous neighborhoods and in cramped quarters for a mere pittance of what the Cuban government receives for their service. Some of the doctors have called it a form of modern day slavery.

Obama: “And in examining his [Nelson Mandela] life and his words, I’m sure we both realize we have more work to do to promote equality in our own countries — to reduce discrimination based on race in our own countries. And in Cuba, we want our engagement to help lift up the Cubans who are of African descent — (applause) — who’ve proven that there’s nothing they cannot achieve when given the chance.”

Black Cuba

Tell me about it: I’m so glad that Obama noted the need to “lift up” Black Cubans, acknowledging that the Revolution did not end racism in Cuba. It is alive and well, as this  New York Times article notes when describing the nearly “Lilly-white audience” that accompanied Obama throughout his trip, although the island is more than 50% Black.  Not to mention the real economic disparities that exist.







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