In a particularly absurd display of military might and tropical folklore, Raúl Castro presided over a military parade in Havana on Monday to honor his dead brother and mark the 58th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
But instead of railing against the Republican winner of the U.S. presidential election, who has already taunted and threatened the Cuban government with his infamous tweets, the theme was anti-Obama.
Apparently everybody loves a winner, and Raúl Castro is no exception. He’s ready to ditch President Barack Obama, who opened up to Cuba like no other U.S. president before him.
The parting is ugly.
Listen to the war chant the marching troops were shouting in the parade:
“Commander-in-Chief, command us. Command over this land. We are going to make war if imperialism comes. Obama! Obama! With what fervor we’d like to confront your clumsiness, give you a cleansing with rebels and mortar, and make you a hat out of bullets to the head.”
Nothing like a little santería jargon — una limpieza, a cleansing! — to go with the fatigues, rifles and a threat to do the U.S. president harm.
Even by Cuba’s Kafkian standards, threatening to shoot an American president in the head is way out there. Too reprehensible for words. But the ungrateful display is even more remarkable because Obama has been nothing but a friend to Cuba, unilaterally lifting so many trade and travel restrictions that it worked to his political detriment at home.
Obama’s grave crime against Castro: The American president is more popular in Cuba than Raúl — and his visit last March awakened great hope and expectations in the Cuban people, who welcomed Obama with joy and displays of solidarity with the United States. Cubans heard Obama’s message that there could be a better Cuba if they believed in it, worked for it, embraced change and America’s peace offering.
The octogenarian Cuban leadership has been backpedaling on engagement since then, tightening the controls on entrepreneurship, funneling tourism activity through government channels, and cracking down on any form of dissent, peaceful as it may be.
But Cuba would not be facing a recession now had Raúl Castro been a true reformer and taken advantage of the opportunities the Obama administration offered him to diversify the economy, allowing private businesses to thrive and the Cuban people to directly benefit from the opening.
If Castro had not been so easily spooked by Obama’s charisma, instead of half-empty flights to the island there would be waiting lists to fly and sail to Cuban ports. Instead of brutal repression of dissidents and independent journalists, there might be respect for basic human rights and tolerance for the political participation of all Cubans, not just those who support the Castro dynasty.
Castro squandered a unique opportunity in American history — and now he’s got the conservative guns aimed at his regime and an unpredictable wild-card president-elect in charge 90 miles north. He’s going to need to do a whole lot more than march the troops.
The hard-line exiles, including members of Congress from Miami sidelined as Obama crafted his friendly Cuba policy without them, are back in charge and already pushing hard. In a letter to Donald Trump, five former diplomats asked him to undo most of Obama’s policy within the first 100 days of his presidency and block the confirmation of a U.S. ambassador to Cuba.
It’s a predictable outcome of the election.
Castro might end up wishing his troops had made President Obama a beautiful Panama hat rimmed with fragrant mariposas, Cuba’s national flower, the white ginger lily. Because not even the babalawos, the high priests of the Yoruba religion, can foretell what a Donald Trump presidency might mean for Cuba.
Trump certainly could feel beholden to the hard-line exiles who helped him win Florida even after he encouraged the Russians — from Miami, no less — to hack his opponent and the Democrats. But with Trump one never knows. The investment opportunities in Cuba might play a larger role.
As for President Obama, he’s still being graceful, taking the high road.
Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment on the egregious military chant.
At a White House meeting in December to mark the second anniversary of his policy shift from détente to engagement, several sources told the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald that Obama intends to remain involved in Cuba issues as a private citizen. Given the sour militant tone of Raúl Castro’s march on Obama’s watch, it’s hard to envision how that might work while Castro is in charge.
But maybe the surviving Castro brother will be nicer to Putin-loving Trump — and his billions.