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Alfredo Prieto: I was born in Havana, a fact that’s not so common around here these days. Most of my family emigrated a long time ago to the United States, something that motivated me to study that country a little to try and understand it. I learned some English, and later I improved a bit more through direct contact with US citizens in their homes and above all in their universities. Later I found out that this was called “sleeping with the enemy”, but I confess that I never saw one in front of me. I’ve had many invitations, but as of six years ago I can’t go back because they changed the rules of the game. I’ve been the editor of the magazines, Cuadernos de Nuestra América, Temas and Caminos. I now work at the publishing house of the Cuban Writers and Artists Association (UNEAC) and I’m writing another book. Like my aunt, I am a declared fan of strawberry cheesecakes… and of Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac’s ex. If any of you know her, please give her a flower for me.

Obama’s Cuba Piñata

September 8, 2009 | Print Print |

By Alfredo Prieto*

Despite the fanfare, the Obama policy toward Cuba resembles a leaky roof.  Photo: Bill Hackwell

Despite the fanfare, the Obama policy toward Cuba resembles a leaky roof. Photo: Bill Hackwell

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 8 - Seen from here in Havana – or at least from the particular perspective of this Cuban citizen – the Obama policy toward Cuba resembles a leaky roof.

Its distinctive feature is not so much the newness, but rather the recycling of “Clinton era” positions rejected by the George W. Bush administration.  However, Obama has possibly taken them further, like those in the area of telecommunications and cell telephones, for example – which Clintonism never reached.

Just a few months after entering the executive office, and in the context of last April’s Summit of the Americas, it was difficult to appear with empty hands before the rebellion of the grassroots presidents in the new Latin American political context.

Obama therefore announced a relaxation of sanctions against visits to the island for several categories of Cuban family members (including indirect relatives) and the amount of money that could be sent to kin.  Both of these prerogatives had been severely restricted by the Bush administration in July 2004.

The president selectively implemented a group of recommendations generated by think tanks and liberal academic institutions that concurred on the need to gradually reverse the pendulum in the face of the US failure to achieve “national interest” through an embargo/blockade. Let’s review the timing.

This summer the administration gave the green light to visits to Cuba by several well-known Hollywood actors.  Among them was Puerto Rican-born actor Benicio de la Toro, who received an award from the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) for his professional career and his portrayal of the guerilla fighter Ernesto Che Guevara in Steven Soderbergh’s two-part film about Che.

In July bilateral immigration talks were held, which had been unilaterally suspended by the previous US administration.  The purpose of these was to ensure legal, safe and orderly migration – a national security problem for both countries.  This dialogue, as expected was opposed by the Cuban-American ultra right.

Later, Latin pop singer Juanes’ announced a September 20th Havana concert – that fell like a bomb in the hardcore exile sectors of Miami-Dade – but received the tacit support of even Hillary Clinton and the US State Department, though without the corresponding olive branch.

Next to last was the visit by New Mexican Governor Bill Richardson, a resolved advocate of the “soft line,” who not only had the purpose of negotiating trade agreements for his state (one of the poorest in the Union), but also of approaching the question of cultural exchanges – another of the directions in which the Obama administration is moving.

(By the way, some press agencies inappropriately speak of “trade,” forgetting that official US policy does not contemplate a two-way street – but only in one direction – whereby Cuba will continue to be prohibited from selling its products to the US.  Moreover, Cuba’s purchases of US products will be solely on a cash basis.)

Cuban farmers carry on as they have for decades.  Photo: Bill Hackwell

Cuban farmers carry on as they have for decades. Photo: Bill Hackwell

The former Democratic Party presidential candidate explained that he did not come representing the current administration.  This, however, didn’t prevent him from programmatically stating, “Many Americans think the embargo hasn’t worked,” to which he later added, “In one year the United States will be in serious negotiations on lifting the embargo.”

Regardless of whether such talks prove to be successful or not, they indicate the priority on the domestic agenda of not only public healthcare but also the immigration question as two of its most important issues for the administration.

The last in the sequence of developments was the announcement of talks set to begin on September 17 to restore direct US-Cuba mail services, suspended in 1963, and the implementation of Obama’s April promises regarding travel and remittances.

It may soon be possible to send packages that contain not only food and medicines – the only goods authorized to date – but also digital cameras, personal computers, televisions and radios, as long as those who receive them – like in the case of remittances – are not Communist Party or government officials.

This latter condition, though an impracticable ideologically-based constraint, is symbolically useful given the panorama of anti-Cuba elements in Miami and their counterparts in Washington DC.

Some say in the US that the embargo/blockade is like a piñata hanging from the ceiling, one which doesn’t have to be pulled down in a single jerk, but just taken apart piece by piece – today an arm, tomorrow a leg, later the head – until it finally falls from its own weight.

The question is usually more complex in that it always involves other factors, but Obama is circling around this position – more than what his opponents have wanted, less than what his supporters have hoped.

*Alfredo Prieto, managing editor of the Havana-based Temas Magazine.


What's your opinion?

  • http://None Robert Cowdery

    Some say in the US that the embargo/blockade is like a piñata hanging from the ceiling, one which doesn’t have to be pulled down in a single jerk, but just taken apart piece by piece – today an arm, tomorrow a leg, later the head – until it finally falls from its own weight.

    I agree–”finally it falls from its own weight.”

    At this moment president Obama is trying to get a Universal Health Care plan passed for the US, something Cuba has had for a long time.

    I hope later President Obama will be able to find ways to remove the US Embargo of Cuba.
    Meanwhile on September 21st. I will be learning Spanish 5 days a week, so I can chat with my friends in Cuba en Español

  • http://www.ronridenour.com Ron Ridenour

    Alfredo, there is ONLY one reason, I contend well aware that often more than one reason motivates an action, for a US capitalist-based imperialist president to lift its blockade against its key enemy in the world, and that is to crush it. It is not irrelevant that mulato Obama of the White House seeks to deal in telecommunications and cell phones: they can be tapped. And the more Cuba is enticed to buy in hard currency its intake of food places the vulnerable island-nation in peril of not producing its own foodstuff. By relying upon a one-sided trade policy with the unfriendly neighbor to the north, Cuba becomes all the more vulnerable to its stealth.
    In my view, Cuba must aim at becoming self-sufficient for its foodstuff and trade much more with ALBA countries than it is now doing. The piñata analogy is real.

  • Yolanda Garcia

    Senor Cowdery,

    As someone who is both an AfroCuban (Milagros will choke me when she reads AFRO) and an educator unlike my sister Milagros i do not travel to Cuba monthly. However, now that she is there, I have the op to also let all of the people who seem to NOT! understand how FREEDOM works to read my own words. I also am fluent as a Cuban and speak as I should my own language which I do at the spanish HT

    Senor Cowdery, I disagree with your piecemeal approach> YOUR WORDS> today an arm, tomorrow a leg, later the head – until it finally falls from its own weight.?

    MY QUESTIONS IS WHY? Why not remove the Embargo NOW!! To hell with health care for all amerikkkns .Amerikkkns have never had full health care (Cuba does) full educ(Cuba does) and amerikkkn bureaucrats liars and politick-tions will never allow it. Your right wig Republicans have lobbied and paid the insurance companies to keep bus as usual..NO Senor..ITS THE EMBARGO STUPID..Cubans need proper food, shelter etc.!!

  • Yolanda Garcia

    Right wing..error not right wig

    Further more.Obama is a liar, fake and a hypocrite..and I say this because this Black man could care less than anyrthing about his own people in Kenya living in huts and under poor standards. Then I look at what is happening in Wash DC where I currently live and teach ..He could also care less about the millions of good ordinary people who worked day and night to make sure El Flako enganadoro was put in office..For what?

    Obama, made a campaign promise Senor Cowdery,and if i have to vote from my death bed..he will never get another vote from anyone in our family. Piecemeal des not work Senor, and the issues with Obama and the Castro adm are simply Omabas ego. he cannot seem to comprehend how FREEDOM works.! But it will take Milagros who is older than I am to best tell you what it was like before the EMBARGO..Your theory sucks, it is unfair, racist and why should Cuba wait until Obama gets health care for the US when Cubans fought and died for it?

  • Yolanda Garcia

    BARAK HUSSEIN OBAMA ..TAKE DOWN THIS EMBARGO..NOW

    Senor Prieto. great peice..My.Your words>

    The question is usually more complex in that it always involves other factors, but Obama is circling around this position – more than what his opponents have wanted, less than what his supporters have hoped.

    MY THOUGHTS>

    I would like to ask Obama,if the US under George (slave holder) Washington, accepted piecemeal..My knowledge of this answer is HELL NO!! give me freedom or give me death. was the cry of 1776, and where many may disagree with my premice here..I ask is continued slavery (quasi) the best way?
    ..One day we give the vote, the next week we provide educ , and the next day we give a job etc etc. African amerikkkns went thru that BS…….and they are no better off now.. than when they wore chains…
    REMOVE THE EMBARGO NOW!

  • Yolanda Garcia

    LAST, the issue with Obama and health care is a US prob..the Embargo is both countrys prob..First.. because our children/and elders are affected by this more than anyone in terms of not getting sufficient food and nutritional needs is as well..The US placed the Embargo, on my country..and Obama needs to remove it now!!..
    People, in Cuba could care less about your health care issues and I as a Cuban in amerikka with my own paid insurance, can also care less….However, one thing is clear as long as amerikka keeps doig what it is doing(capitalism) it will keep getting what t gets…..racist..(including Obama).greedy, lying, capitalist liars, sexaholics, and adulterers making laws s and policy…AMERIKKKA YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED

  • Joel

    “racist, greedy, lying, sexaholics, and adulterers making laws and policy”
    Dear Yolanda, all these would perfectly fit to people in the current Cuban Government as well, don’t be naive.
    There is no embargo/bloqueo coming from other countries in the region.
    Why is that Castro insist in buying food from USA and crying about it? Because it has been very succesfull to hide their own lack of capacity or will to feed their own. But it’s always easier to blame somebody else.