Cuba moves to offset the Obama effect on youth

4 April 2016

Issue number 865

The Cuban Communist Party and Cuban state media have moved rapidly following the visit of President Obama to restore a semblance of normality, through a daily emphasis on the role and duty of Cuban youth, preparations for the 7th Communist Party Congress to be held on April 16, and commentaries critical of aspects of the visit in the Cuban media by the former President, Fidel Castro, and others.

The most striking commentary in terms of content was not that by the former President but an opinion piece that appeared in Granma, the official voice of the Communist Party, on March 25 ­ just over a day after the US President departed ­ that seemed, to a significant extent, directed towards the country’s young people.

Written by Dario Machado Rodriguez, entitled ‘The ‘good’ Obama?’, the article said that while ‘it must be recognized that [President Obama] is a politician with charisma, stage presence, a sense of media opportunity, communication skills – probably the best and most capable at hand today’, this ‘disguised the strategic objectives of US imperialism toward Cuba, Latin America and the Caribbean’.

In his commentary, Dr Machado noted that although President Obama did not miss any opportunity during his visit to call for an end to embargo, his words were ultimately those of someone who would soon disappear from the US government, ‘phrases that he can state now, that he can claim responsibility for, as he does not aspire to.’

The commentary suggested that this allowed the US President to present himself as someone opposed to the embargo and the advocate of a new policy, ‘when for almost all of his term he endorsed the blockade with his inertia.’

In a line that probably reflects the Cuban government’s concern about the extraordinary impact that the US President’s visit had on Cuban young people, the visible contrast between a younger lighter form of US leadership and a rigid and at times seemingly dated approach on the part of the Cuban government, Dr Machado observed that it was particularly important for young people ‘for whom the effects of the blockade have been mitigated by the protection offered by society and their families’, to read between the lines.

Implying that they should be sceptical, he noted that they had not had the experience of living through the experience of ‘the northern neighbour,’ citing as examples ‘criminal sabotage, Playa Girón, the October [missile] crisis, counterrevolutionary groups, attacks against our leaders, biological aggression, and so on.’

The commentary went on to point out that there was much that President Obama did not say: ‘There is no doubt: Obama is the gentle and seductive face of the same danger. He made no apology for crimes against Cuba, he did not mention the Guantánamo Naval Base, he did not speak of the Cuban Adjustment Act, he did not explain why he hasn’t done more to dismantle the blockade, given the powers he possesses to do so, and there were many other incredible omissions,’ the commentary observed.

Dr Machado said that it was clear that President Obama does not want to co-operate with Cuba, but rather with that part of Cuban society that offered the best conditions for the strategic interests that he represented.

Then in a blistering attack, Dr Machado said: ‘He hoped to seduce youth, encourage selfishness and the thirst for purely individual improvement, presenting capitalist growth as a universal panacea and not the cause of the crises, or the danger of the destruction of the environment and the disappearance of the human species. He hoped to contribute to the fragmentation of Cuban society in order to recover US hegemony here and in our region. In his speech, the conceited tone of someone who “grants us the right” – that no one need grant us – “to solve our own problems” was evident. We must now explain and demonstrate this’.

In contrast, the widely publicised commentary by Fidel Castro published on March 28 in Granma under the title ‘Brother Obama’, and picked up by the international media, was much less to the point. It began with what appeared to be an attack on foreign investment in tourism, and seemed designed to appeal to older forms of Cuban patriotism and nationalism in relation to the dangers of foreign exploitation. Quoting President Obama’s words, the former Cuban President suggested that the US President had sought to ignore the achievements of the Cuban revolution in removing racial discrimination and wage and pension inequality, or Cuba’s role in ending colonial domination in Africa.

After exploring some of these themes, Dr Castro wrote that his ‘modest suggestion’ was that President Obama should not attempt to elaborate theories on Cuban policy and that ‘all of us were at risk of a heart attack’ from hearing the President of the United States talk about forgetting the past.

The former Cuban President concluded by noting that no one should be under the illusion that Cubans would renounce ‘the glory, the rights, or the spiritual wealth they have gained with the development of education, science and culture… We do not need the empire to give us anything,’ he said.

Strikingly, the Cuban official media has on a daily basis since President Obama’s visit been giving extensive coverage to the role of Cuban youth in the country’s future, to education, and to the substance of debates in a youth Congress.

While this is to a significant extent related to the coming Party Congress, it suggests too that government may be concerned to demonstrate that they are aware that young people and their concerns represent the future.

Irrespective, President Obama’s visit has left the lingering sense that despite their nationalism and social commitment, many younger Cubans found some of what the US President said resonant with their pent up desire for a more liberal interpretation of Cuba’s future.


This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s weekly Cuba Briefing, a leading publication that provides detailed and accurate news on economic, social and political developments inside Cuba to corporate interests with a long term economic relationship with the island.

The publication is available internationally on a subscription-only basis for those in business, government and the academic world who wish to understand on a weekly basis developments relating to Cuba.

Subscribe to Cuba Briefing