Article by: Angelo Manaloto
Photos compiled by: Matthew Seet
It remains a vivid twenty years or so since Fidel Castro stated in an interview with the New York Times that he proposed “the immediate launching of a nuclear strike on the United States.” This being thirty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, it seemed as though the Cuban ethos would remain forever obstinate in its hatred of the United States. After the failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961, conducted as a result of the nationalization of American firms based in Cuba and the threat of a Communist spark in the West, America achieved the opposite of its intentions. Cuba, consequently, looked towards its only possible ally at the time: the Soviet Union, with the ensuing developments drawing the world to the closest it has ever been to nuclear war.
Even after the Crisis, the eco-political relations of the two countries have been stained with great mistrust and sardonicism, particularly, by the United States which has refused to lift the trade embargo it had been imposing since the Crisis. Not only this, but the US has also relegated Cuba’s international standing by blacklisting the tiny Caribbean island as one of the nations it recognizes to sponsor terrorism—a designation many regional leaders find baffling.
However, April 11 marked a historic day in the Americas, as Raul Castro and President Obama engaged each other in the Summit of the Americas in what was the first face-to-face discussion between the two countries in over half a century. The meeting wasn’t all smiles, however, with Castro delivering a lengthy diatribe on America’s transgressions in the region, with Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia—not to be undone—following suit. Obama would subsequently retaliate by responding that America would not be held prisoner to its past and that he’d preferably avoid fighting battles that started “before he was born.” In apologies towards the end of the session, Castro’s redirected the meeting’s shift of tone as he called Obama an “honest” president and apologized for having been carried away by revolutionary rhetoric—gestures his late brother would never have condoned.
At the summit’s end, where the two countries stood was clear. Obama would relentlessly continue advocating for human rights and democracy, while Castro would be more concerned with the lifting of the trade embargo: misaligned, but nonetheless clear. With these developments with Cuba, the US State Department’s top diplomat in Latin America, Arturo Valanzuela evaluated that we may very well see the greater region responding in earnestness on democracy and human rights, predicting, among others, a potential shift in Brazilian policy against Venezuela. Considerable length of the talk was also attributed to the reestablishment of embassies in Havana and Washington.
The world of politics and diplomacy, as the Mexican newspaper El Universidad puts it, is one of grand gestures. And in times like these, it can only be hoped that gestures extend much further than a shake of hands and the exchange of a few words.