President Obama made a historic trip to Cuba this week as the first sitting US president to visit the Communist ruled island since Calvin Coolidge did in 1928. “My lifetime has spanned a time of isolation between us,” Obama said. “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.”
This week, the world witnessed the last remnants of the Cold War fall away. The occasion was US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to Havana, capital of Cuba. It was the first time in 88 years that an American president visited the city. His trip – and the predicted end of economic sanctions and other hostilities that America inflicted on its tiny southern neighbour for 57 years – is historic for several reasons.
One, at the twilight of his presidential term, Obama is willing to make bold foreign policy moves: the lifting of sanctions on Iran, the engagement with Cuba and recognition of the evils of the Argentine junta a third. Two, Obama’s references to Cuba’s famed healthcare model is a compliment to Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has promised a Cuba-like healthcare system for the US, if elected. The Thatcher-Reagan consensus of minimal state intervention in welfare is beating a retreat worldwide: this is another confirmation of this ideological shift.
Finally, Obama’s visit opens the doors of Cuba’s economy, stagnant for nearly 30 years after the collapse of its main ally the Soviet Union, to global capital. Citizens of Cuba and its Havana elite will now have to cope with the windfalls and whims of global capital. This will not be easy for president Raul Castro, brother of the iconic Fidel who led the revolution that brought the regime to power. Cuba might come to adopt a Chinastyle model: a relatively free economy with one-party monopoly on governance. A wildly popular meme has Fidel telling friends in 1973 that the US would start talking to Cuba only when it had a black president. That tale is fictitious. But the reality of the Castro-Obama meeting will cement this moment in global history.