“Change is hard — in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future — for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.” – President Obama, December 17, 2014
Whether it has been directing the elimination of Osama bin Laden, or briefing a grieving American public after the Boston Marathon bombings, President Obama is no stranger when it comes to dealing with domestic and worldwide terrorism. While watching the Tampa Bay Rays defeat the Cuban national team in an exhibition match in Havana, Cuba, Obama continued to show the same poise and expertise during an interview with ESPN after hearing news about the bombings taking place in the Brussels Airport and in the Maelbeek metro station earlier that morning:
“It’s always a challenge when you have a terrorist attack anywhere in the world, particularly in this age of 24/7 news coverage, you want to be respectful and understand the gravity of the situation, but the whole premise of terrorism is to try to disrupt people’s ordinary lives.”
The exhibition match marked the first time that an MLB team has played in Cuba since 1999, when the Baltimore Orioles faced off against the Cuban national team. However, more importantly, it was the first time in nearly a century that a U.S. President stepped foot on Cuban soil. While there, Obama continued to rebuild the broken relationship between the two divided countries. Since Oct. 19, 1960, the United States has placed an economic embargo on Cuba banning all trade as a way for the U.S. to fight against the rise of Communism during the Cold War. Now over half a century old, the policy is very much outdated and has proven to be a significant strain on the Cuban economy.
Many were outraged that Obama decided to stay put in Cuba in wake of the Brussels terrorist attacks. Republican Arizona congressman Matt Salmon said “I find the imagery of the President yucking it up with FARC terrorists at a baseball game yesterday when Europe is under siege by terrorists disgusting, absolutely disgusting.” It is worth noting that the Republican congressman is in disgust, despite the fact that earlier in the day, Obama addressed the issue during his press conference held at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, which was aired live across all major news channels.
My question for Matt Salmon is: What difference would it have made if Obama had come back to America after hearing the news about the bombings that occurred in Belgium? While Belgium and the United States are allies, especially when it comes to the fight against radical Islamic terrorism, the specific incident that occurred in the capital city of Belgium wasn’t Obama’s to fix. If the attack had occurred on American soil, then the circumstances would have been much different.
It’s important that Obama acts efficiently during his final moments of his presidency if he wants to make any more policy changes before his time is up. A driving factor behind why Obama stayed in Cuba during his historic visit was that reestablishing the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba is one of the top tasks to complete on his final to-do list. “This is a new day — es un nuevo dia — between our two countries,” said Obama during his speech in Havana. On Dec. 14, 2014, Obama made a public statement saying that the two countries will re-establish diplomatic relations while also attempting to remove some commerce and travel restrictions.
“Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.”
While there have been mixed reactions from Congress, however, it has never been a more vital time for the U.S. to act on a policy change that is well overdue, especially for Cuban citizens who suffer from a shortage of common, everyday items. The communist-style government has proven to be a hindrance on the economy, as the country relies on dwindling resources mainly coming from Russia and Venezuela. While opening up trade will prove to be a boost for many American businesses (and many hopeful tourists), Cuba will ultimately be the grand benefactor. Cities such as Miami show the economic potential Cuba has, and it’s up to the U.S. to help unlock it.
“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. … In many ways, the United States and Cuba are like two brothers who have been estranged for many years, even as we share the same blood. We both live in a new world, colonized by Europeans. Cuba, like the United States, was built in part by slaves brought here from Africa. Like the United States, the Cuban people can trace their heritage to both slaves and slave owners.” – President Obama
The president did the right thing by not cutting his trip to Cuba short, since it is so important that our country deals with this task immediately in order to remove the embargo before Obama’s time is up in the White House. The lift of the embargo will help both economies while also providing benefits in the sports and entertainment industry (especially baseball). However, looking into the distant future (or for however long Fidel and Raoul Castro stay in power), the removal of the embargo could lead to the gradual end of communism in Cuba, which I think any U.S. politician would agree would be a great diplomatic achievement.
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Featured image courtesy of Reuters.