I love America. And I’m a fan of Obama.
He’s in his last 8 months and he’s working seriously on his legacy.
Cuba’s been on the naughty step for 55 years. It’s cost them a trillion dollars. America hasn’t always been behaved brilliantly towards her neighbour. In fact, the relationship has been soured by all sorts of hiccups – Russian nukes, Guantanamo Bay, the Bay of Pigs fiasco (when American-trained Cuban exiles tried to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government), lots of finger wagging, and the embargo.
But this week Obama was man enough to accept that this hasn’t worked and that the time has come for US policy on Cuba to change. “A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War makes little sense in the 21st Century.”
Obama’s famously good at making speeches. At one point he even got all Shakespearean “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” But his speech in Havana yesterday went down a storm. He addressed the Cuban people on live TV, in front of Raul Castro, in both English, and in Spanish. He received mega applause.
He made it human. He acknowledged the human cost of separation for the 1-million Cuban exiles who fled to America “on planes and makeshift rafts, who came to America in pursuit of freedom.”
And of course he praised the Cubans, and praised American values. This was pure vintage Obama.
But read between the lines.
Politics isn’t my game. I’m a businessman. And I know a negotiating position when I see one.
Obama’s making a deal here. He’s playing a hand.
He’s basically saying – look we’ve established diplomatic relations and opened embassies. We’ve lifted the limit on remittances between our countries. Investment’s going to follow in health, agriculture, education, technology, infrastructure, and energy. We have started direct flights, and mail services. And coming soon will be millions of Americans, with hard currency, holidaying and doing business in Cuba.
He really does want to lift the embargo. “As president of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.”
But he’s asking for payback. He wants to see democracy, sustainable prosperity, education, health care, and environmental protection. He’s asking for Cuba to change – democracy, human rights, free and open exchange of ideas, and information online. “If you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential.”
“It should be easier to open a business here in Cuba. A worker should be able to get a job directly with companies who invest here in Cuba. Two currencies shouldn’t separate the type of salaries that Cubans can earn. The Internet should be available across the island so that Cubans can connect to the wider world and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.”
Obama believes – as I do – that investment and economic reform is the way to solve so many of these problems.
And he spelled this out to Cubans. With their President at his side.
Will they listen? Will they do as he asks?
Well, that’s up to them. Cuba is a proud country with its own unique identity. They don’t want Starbucks or McDonalds on every corner. They want to develop in their own way. They can look at the mistakes the rest of the world’s governments have made over the past 50 years and learn from them. Now that’s a luxury in itself.
And frankly, the great United States of America can learn from Cuba. Just ask Americans how much their healthcare costs and how good their health system is. I could go on.
This has been one of the most important week’s in Cuba’s history and I’m delighted to have been part of it.