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Thursday, January 17, 2019

The unstoppable transformation of Cuba accelerates this week with the arrival of two of the world’s most famous people: Barack Obama and Mick Jagger.

On Sunday, Obama landed in Havana aboard Air Force One. The first U.S. president to visit the island in 88 years, he’ll meet with Cuban officials and dissidents, and give a speech before a crowd of 1,000 at the Gran Teatro Alicia Alonso.

Jagger and the Rolling Stones, who have their own very nice jet, fly in a few days later to perform a free concert at Ciudad Deportiva. More than 400,000 fans are expected to show up.

Obviously, this is not Fidel Castro’s Cuba anymore.

An American president is being welcomed, and his words are expected to be broadcast directly to the Cuban people. Such a thing was inconceivable not so long ago.

No less historic is the Cuban regime allowing huge throngs to gather and rock out. In the past, such masses were usually assembled to hear one of Fidel’s gruelingly long speeches, or to celebrate some foggy anniversary of the revolution.

On March 6, a huge electronic-dance music concert was staged near the U.S. Embassy on Havana’s waterfront. The headliners were Diplo, a wildly popular American DJ, and his group Major Lazer. News reports estimated the ecstatic crowd at 450,000.

Cuba is opening up, and loosening up. It’s far from being a free country, but the people are finding more freedom in their daily lives.

Thousands still flee because the economy is in shambles, but those who stay are mostly optimistic about the promise of good relations with the United States. I heard this often while I was in Havana in November.

Obama’s visit has been condemned by hardliners in this country, but their day has passed. The U.S. embargo, a stupendous 50-year flop, is destined to be mothballed by a future Congress.

The isolation of Havana is unofficially over. Done.

American tourists are streaming in. Charter flights are packed with Cuban Americans coming to visit relatives. Major airlines are jockeying to schedule daily flights. The cruise lines are locking up harbor space.

And major American banks and companies are lined up and waiting to do business.

Nothing will bring more dramatic change to Cuba than open commerce and contact with the United States. It won’t lead to instant democracy, but the impact on many working people there will be life-changing.

What’s happening now between the two countries was inevitable. Obama has certainly pushed the detente process along but — to steal a line from Jagger and Keith Richards — time was on his side.

Fidel is frail and no longer in command. Most younger Cuban-Americans here favor friendlier relations.

And, not least importantly, major U.S. corporations with heavy political clout are lobbying for trade opportunities.

But even with a flood of U.S. dollars, Cuba will look the same for a long time. Solving its cash crisis and rebuilding its decrepit infrastructure could take decades.

A more intangible change will happen faster, the energy of hope.

Obama’s itinerary in Havana includes meetings with American corporate executives, Cuban entrepreneurs and Cuban Americans whom he has invited on the trip. He’ll also attend a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.

The president isn’t scheduled to sit down with Fidel, but he and Raul Castro will meet on Monday for a discussion that will include the serious and prickly subject of human rights.

Cuban citizens who speak out against the communist government still get thrown in jail. It’s naive to think that stern words from Obama, or any foreign leader, will suddenly sway Cuban leaders to be tolerant of dissent.

On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine any new U.S. strategy having less influence on human-rights reform than the embargo has.

Obama’s trip, which culminates with a state dinner at the Revolutionary Palace, is bound to affect the people of Cuba more than the government’s policies. The sight of an American president riding along the Malecon — the very idea of it — must be mind-boggling and surreal, after half a century of estrangement.

For Cubans, long accustomed to disappointment and dashed hopes, their world finally seems to be moving forward.

On Tuesday, they’ll watch Air Force One take off from the island.

And on Friday they’ll go to a sports stadium and listen to Mick Jagger sing about satisfaction, of all things.

Who would have imagined it?

(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)

(c) 2016, The Miami Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A tour guide (C) raises a Cuban national flag to regroup foreign visitors she is taking through Old Havana March 16, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini 

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9 responses to “Cuba: First Obama, then Mick Jagger”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Denying the positive changes that have been taking place in Cuba since President Obama re-established diplomatic relations with that island-country and since travel restrictions were lifted is ridiculous. The same goes for the positive effect of our decision in the opinion of all Latin American countries, Europe, and everywhere in the world.
    Yes, a full transition to democracy and freedom will probably take a few more years, and the Cuban economy will continue to struggle as long as Congress refuses to lift the embargo to satisfy the desires of Cuban-Americans in Florida still fighting the Cold War, but changes are evident everywhere, and it is evident that the old Castro regime is now on life support.
    Freedom after almost six decades of a brutal dictatorship, and incredible misery caused, largely, by our decision to impose an embargo that hurt, mostly, the Cuban people rather than the Castro regime, will take time to complete, but it is going to happen.
    In the interim, our international credibility has been restored, in spite of Congress’ refusal to restore the embargo. For once, people around the world that looked at us as an 800 pound gorilla imposing its will on small countries, see us as the champions of freedom and democracy we claim to be.

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  2. Such a bold initiative as this would not have been possible if certain other elements in American society had their way. The latter element is still too much infatuated with the childish antics of truculence and posturing; they are forever concerned with contemplating their collective navels, persistently looking inward, hostile in demeanor,
    and afraid of anything that runs counter to the neolithic outlook of eschewing contact with “the other”.

    The courage to extend a friendly hand, to initiate dialog, to seek consensus, and to be frank and honest are the sort of mature characteristics that more “conservative” elements in the world are too timid to express—and when they attempt to do so, they are quite clumsy, stiff, and visibly uncomfortable. The “build a wall” bluster is better suited for the times of Genghis and Kublai Khan, or the days of “The Iron Curtain” outlook on life.

    Hopefully, this gesture of openness and the shedding of anachronistic ideologies and fears will be reciprocated, and a more mature attitude will take hold in other parts of the Americas, and the rest of the world.

  3. yabbed says:

    I am glad to see this happening, happy for the Cuban people who have suffered endlessly because of our government’s cruel embargo. It’s just another way for the rich haves to punish the poor have nots for their unwillingness to bow to power. I’m glad it’s Barack Obama who is making this move to normalize our lives with the Cubans. It’s been a long nonsensical cold shoulder and it is time we put ourselves in harmony with our hemisphere.

  4. plc97477 says:

    It is about time we started being good neighbors. Thank you Obama.

  5. JPHALL says:

    Funny you do not hear these complaints from the right about America’s dealings with Chinese communists! What progress on human rights have been achieved in China because of years of our interaction?

  6. fortunev says:

    Barry and his beautiful, photogenic family are the perfect representatives to finally put an end to pink ignorance and stupidity. They are cultured and sophisticated in their highly educated intelligence helping solve the world’s problems. We are going to miss this man who strode across the world stage making our country proud. What do the ignorant, racist rethuglicant scum-sucking pigs offer the US public and the world? An ignorant, racist huckster clown called tRUMP.

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