Kudos to Obama
By David Henderson
Somehow I got myself so buried in end-of-quarter projects that I didn’t bother to read President Obama’s speech, televised live on Cuban TV. I now have. He knocked it out of the park.
Various people have been saying for the last few days that he needed to call for more freedom for Cubans.
Some highlights, that I particularly liked, from the transcript, plus one I really hated (see if you can guess which one):
Havana is only 90 miles from Florida, but to get here we had to travel a great distance — over barriers of history and ideology; barriers of pain and separation. The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island — to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba. Those waters also carried generations of Cuban revolutionaries to the United States, where they built support for their cause. And that short distance has been crossed by hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles — on planes and makeshift rafts — who came to America in pursuit of freedom and opportunity, sometimes leaving behind everything they owned and every person that they loved.
I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. (Applause.) I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. (Applause.)
But we cannot, and should not, ignore the very real differences that we have — about how we organize our governments, our economies, and our societies. Cuba has a one-party system; the United States is a multi-party democracy. Cuba has a socialist economic model; the United States is an open market. Cuba has emphasized the role and rights of the state; the United States is founded upon the rights of the individual.
In a global economy, powered by ideas and information, a country’s greatest asset is its people. In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.
My reaction: goosebumps.
Cuba has an extraordinary resource — a system of education which values every boy and every girl. (Applause.)
As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. (Applause.) It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people. It’s a burden on the Americans who want to work and do business or invest here in Cuba. It’s time to lift the embargo. But even if we lifted the embargo tomorrow, Cubans would not realize their potential without continued change here in Cuba. (Applause.) 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 — (applause) — and to one of the greatest engines of growth in human history.
I believe citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear — (applause) — to organize, and to criticize their government, and to protest peacefully, and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights. (Applause.) I believe that every person should have the freedom to practice their faith peacefully and publicly. (Applause.) And, yes, I believe voters should be able to choose their governments in free and democratic elections. (Applause.)
I know that for some Cubans on the island, there may be a sense that those who left somehow supported the old order in Cuba. I’m sure there’s a narrative that lingers here which suggests that Cuban exiles ignored the problems of pre-Revolutionary Cuba, and rejected the struggle to build a new future. But I can tell you today that so many Cuban exiles carry a memory of painful — and sometimes violent — separation. They love Cuba. A part of them still considers this their true home. That’s why their passion is so strong. That’s why their heartache is so great. And for the Cuban American community that I’ve come to know and respect, this is not just about politics. This is about family — the memory of a home that was lost; the desire to rebuild a broken bond; the hope for a better future the hope for return and reconciliation.
President Obama made major departures from the text of his speech and, from what I can tell with a quick reading, most of them were to sharpen his speech and call for more freedom for Cubans. Good for him.
Correction: Obama made two separate speeches. The one highlighted above was on Tuesday. The other one was on Monday. Thanks to a Facebook commenter for pointing that out.