Cuban President Raúl Castro is expected to retire in exactly two years. During that uncertain time, the Cuban people will yearn for a vision of tomorrow, and a piece of forward-looking political rhetoric delivered on Cuban soil just two years before will resonate as powerfully as any at dinner tables across the country.
That speech will be the one we can expect President Obama to make should he decide to visit Cuba this year.
As the first sitting American president to visit Havana after 54 years, Obama’s every word will carry awesome weight. The entire country will watch him speak and countless Cuban students and future politicians will be molded by his message.
Some argue that Castro hasn’t earned the honor of such a prestigious visit, and if the trip were only about him it would be difficult to disagree. But this opportunity goes far beyond Castro. It’s about an American president sharing his vision for a brighter future directly with 11 million Cubans who do deserve his visit.
Others accuse the president of craving a “Nixon to China” moment, as if that were a bad thing. Nixon’s rapprochement with Beijing was largely to gain leverage over the Soviet Union. Today there is a clear opportunity to gain leverage in Havana over Venezuela and Russia. Yet the president’s detractors believe it wiser to wait for these players to voluntarily withdraw their chips from the Cuban table before we engage.
What higher purpose is there for a presidential visit than to exert positive influence on multiple fronts, including human rights? Obama’s sky-high popularity among Cubans and the universal attention his trip would generate create an unprecedented chance for the leader of the free world to promote core American values inside the only communist country in our hemisphere.
To neglect such an opportunity would be diplomatic malpractice.
Ric Herrero, executive director, #CubaNow, Miami