As I’ve driven through Miami this weekend and spoken to friends and relatives, many uneasy and vaguely dejected, I have to remember I had no illusions about the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. If Nixon could ignore Mao’s extermination of perhaps hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens during the Cultural Revolution, then Barack Obama could ignore fifty-three years of enmity and the Ladies in White for the sake of Starwood hotels:
Counter-protesters and police broke up an anti-government demonstration in Havana hours before U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for his historic visit.
About 300 government backers surrounded about 50 members and backers of the Ladies in White group shouting insults and revolutionary slogans. There was some shoving back and forth.
The women were taken into custody by female police officers and loaded onto buses in an operation that lasted about 10 minutes. In such cases, protesters are typically are detained for a few hours and then released.
The number of protesters, counter-protesters and police appeared to be about the same as in past incidents, which take place in the Cuban capital each Sunday after the Ladies attend Catholic Mass, march silently along 5th Avenue and then join other dissidents to try to march into a residential neighborhood.
These protests and arrests have happened under the full glare of international media, for which I’m grateful; this casual disregard for peaceful public protest has a hallmark of the Castro regime since the early sixties. For the sake of the president’s visit, moreover, the official government whitewashing has begun, to mixed results:
For decades, Cuban officials have treated every interaction with the United States as a test of sovereignty, and their approach to Mr. Obama’s visit is partly an effort to project competence, confidence and a new commitment to calibrated friendship.
The propaganda has already changed. Billboards lashing imperialism a few months ago now denounce violence against women, mosquitoes or laziness. And beautification is suddenly competing with decay…
…“Everyone wants to know how we Cubans feel about Obama coming,” said Yamile Suárez, 36, shrugging near a repaved road in central Havana. “I’m frankly just happy that giant pothole finally got filled in, so if I have him to thank for it, thanks Obama!”
I want to repeat: the inevitability of the thaw means that the free market, to which Republicans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers, and Marco Rubio pledge their troth, gives not a damn for the protestations of the powerless. It’s possible that the continued clout of the Cuban American delegation in Congress will keep reminding Barack Obama and his successor of the human rights violations like the Chinese American lobby in the seventies could not. But the march forward creates its own momentum.