Our man in Havana”

maining bastion of communism: the Republic of Cuba. By inviting its archenemy, the United States, into the marbled sanctum of the Revolution and subjecting itself to media questions about its human rights lapses, Cuba has displayed to the world its willingness to reinvent itself, like China did more than three decades ago. On the other hand, Obama has acted in a visionary manner by overriding the fierce criticism and resistance from a vociferous group of Cuban immigrants and conservative Republican senators. Overall, the re-establishment of US-Cuba relationship marks a triumph of pragmatism over dogma, suspicion and deep-seated prejudice.
It may be relevant to ask: what is the significance of President Obama's visit to Cuba (complete with cultural tours, a baseball game and even dinner at the Palace of the Revolution) for the citizens of the world? Does it mean that communist ideology has no place in a fast changing world? Or is the answer much more complex?
A few signs are on the horizon. President Obama, in his speech to the Cuban nation, spoke forcefully about the need to improve human rights and allow democratic reforms.     But he assured the Cuban leadership that despite the differences between the two nations, “we will not impose our political or economic system on you.” The Cuban leadership in turn hopes to remove the crushing burden on the country's economy, imposed by years of sanctions. Moreover, with his impending retirement, Raul Castro is perhaps trying to initiate the process of change and “guide the country toward a more sustainable economic system.”
As Cuba opens up its gates, there is a sense of elation at seeing diplomacy and good sense prevail. But there is also a twinge of uncertainty and trepidation. Fidel Castro's Cuba, that was for decades shut out from the culture of lattes and burgers will probably transform under the temptation of its more glamorous neighbour. Traffic-clogged streets with high levels of carbon emission and neon-lit shopping malls are likely to contaminate its pristine beaches and architecturally eclectic squares and plazas. The chatter of smart phones will soon drown the haunting rhythm of the guitar played by the man in a street corner. The “revolutionaries” may be fired up by the opportunity to live the “American Dream.” And soon Cuba may become yet another country with newfangled “communist- capitalists” --- businesses and corporations ready to pounce on its yet untapped resources.
Yes, we do have concerns about Cuba transiting into the “free world” given America's past failed attempts at liberalising and bringing “regime change”. Let's also note that despite its dictatorial policies, Cuba has made tremendous strides in certain areas – especially in providing education and healthcare to all its citizens. This is no mean achievement, given the hiccups the US is still having with universal health coverage. Cuba is thus well positioned to serve as a model for nations grappling with the challenges of delivering efficient social services to their citizens.
Despite all our reservations, we have reason to rejoice at this momentous event. Not only because an American president visited Cuba for the first time in almost nine decades, but also because of the thawing of a half-century of hostility that had degenerated into a war of egos. The history of the United States and Cuba is wrought with conflict, ideological battles and a rivalry that nearly sparked a nuclear war.
President Obama rightly stated: “I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.” However, let's hope that both countries have learned some valuable lessons from it. The US needs to recognise that differences in political and economic systems are learning opportunities rather than sources of conflict, and that sanctions are hardly effective in promoting freedom and economic liberalisation. An important lesson for Cuba would be to avoid being washed away by the tide of change coming from across the ocean. Hopefully, the island nation will build on its past successes rather than throw the baby out with the bath water!

source : the daily star

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