Obama meets Castro

Barack Obama met with Cuban head of state Raúl Castro on Monday in Havana. With his historic visit to the country the US president hopes to boost the process of reconciliation between the US and the Caribbean state. Some commentators heartily commend Obama's diplomatic initiative. Others believe Cuba will change economically but not politically.

Open/close all quotes
Trouw (NL) /

Hopes of freedom for Cuba

Cuba is on the right path after Barack Obama's visit, the Christian-social daily Trouw writes:

“There are hopeful signs of a thaw between the two countries, and that after 50 years of isolation, Cuba is opening to the world. It is to be hoped that Obama's visit provided definitive confirmation that the country is on the path to a democratic transition in which the respect for human rights will play a central role. ... A gradual transition towards an open economy and more democracy will give the population and the regime time to prepare. For that, however, dissidents must be freed. The communist regime has no other alternative. Economically the country is in a sorry state, and the population is growing. ... If the regime decides in favour of a transition, it is not to be ruled out that the Cubans will take the law into their own hands.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Obama is paying attention to right to freedom

Barack Obama met with Cuban dissidents in the newly reopened US embassy in Havana on Tuesday and praised their "extraordinary courage". This should put to rest the accusations that Obama is bent on ingratiating himself with the Cuban regime, the centre-left daily La Repubblica comments jubilantly:

“This makes it clear that Obama's visit has not been made purely in the name of realpolitik. Obama has refuted the accusations that he went to Havana to boost the Castro regime. He is wisely using two levels of communication: firstly with the government, because the thaw in diplomatic relations cannot be achieved without it. But at the same time he is seeking dialogue with civil society and with that section of the population which - although it has not chosen the path of exile - decries the restrictions on freedom and the centrally controlled economy.”

Ouest-France (FR) /

Rapprochement between North and South America

With his visit to Cuba Barack Obama is seeking more than just improved relations with the island state, the regional daily Ouest-France observes:

“Obama has broader objectives, namely better relations between North and South America. The [US-supported] negotiations currently under way in Cuba for peace in Colombia are proof of this. According to one Chilean institute, 65 percent of Latin Americans now have a favourable image of the United States, compared with just 38 percent in 1996. After the Chavez decade, the anti-capitalist left is losing support in Latin America. An opportunity for the big North American neighbour to renew its engagement in this region that purchases one quarter of its exports, and where 56 million of its citizens come from. This window of opportunity would, however, disappear if Donald Trump comes to power and builds his wall along the Mexican border!”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

A handshake is no breakthrough

Obama's diplomatic success remains a foreign policy risk, the liberal daily NRC Handelsblad comments:

“We will see whether Obama's gamble pays off, and whether economic relations will make the socialist Castros more politically flexible. ... The US is running the risk that the same situation will arise in Cuba as in China after the visit by then president Nixon in 1972. It led to economic liberalisation for US companies and other Western businesses, but political repression continued. Cuba has long been a holiday destination for Western tourists who enjoy the idyll of rum, cigars and Buena Vista Social Club. But for now it remains a prison with its own refugees in boats drama. Obama's visit offers hope. But this is not another 'fall of the Berlin Wall' as some people want to believe.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Political opponents still being persecuted

Cuba's government continues to oppress the population despite Obama's visit, the centre-right daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung criticises:

“The Wall Street Journal has calculated that there were 8,600 arrests with political motives in 2015 - after the 'Obama Offensive' started - and 2,500 in the first two months of this year. Of the 53 political prisoners whose release Washington negotiated in 2014, half have been rearrested. ... One fervently hopes that the Cuban population will feel the wind of change and freedom, and that it will benefit more from the fruit of its labour with the modernisation of its economy. But words won't help them in that respect, only deeds.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Strategy of wishful thinking

US President Barack Obama's historic visit to Cuba will hardly lead to reforms on the island, the liberal daily Dagens Nyheter comments:

“A diplomacy without ultimatums like that on Cuba is part of Obama's strategy - as is his reluctance to resort to military intervention. … Obama's pensiveness has its advantages - in Cuba and elsewhere. But at the same time his strategy is often based on wishful thinking. The Islamic State is not a problem that can be solved easily. But his strategy for destroying this terrorist movement (as he has promised to do) is extremely diffuse. Raúl Castro has announced that he will step down as president in 2018. This is no doubt a prerequisite for a freer Cuba, but not a guarantee. … In the best case it will be the beginning of something new.”

El HuffPost (ES) /

Obama wins the hearts of the Cubans

The Cuban human rights activist Miriam Leiva commends Obama's Cuba policy on the centre-left web portal El Huffington Post:

“The admiration people felt for Obama turned into gratitude when, shortly after he moved into the White House in 2009, he facilitated visits between the US and Cuba so that family members and friends who had been separated for 50 years were reunited. At the same time money transfers were facilitated to ease the suffering and poverty that afflicts a large section of the population. Obama has freed the Cubans from the non-stop anti-Yankee propaganda, the meetings, the speeches and military parades. But above all he has deprived the Cuban government of its pretexts for repression and for blaming the US government for all the economic disasters caused by its own arbitrary and failed policies.”

Diário de Notícias (PT) /

Pragmatism is the path to success

The liberal-conservative daily Diário de Notícias finds the US president's new Cuba policy promising:

“The re-establishment of trade relations and new foreign investment in Cuba - Google has already announced that it will extend broadband Internet connections there - could galvanise the Cubans to take action themselves and demand further changes. Unlike his predecessors Obama is a pragmatist: he has realised that the US is better off trying to negotiate transformation and change rather than interfering illegitimately in the affairs of other states. … Only time will tell whether this first visit to Cuba by a US president in almost 90 years will be more than just a footnote in the history books. But time is clearly on Obama's side.”

Delo (SI) /

History being written in Cuba

The US president had a good reason to improve relations with Cuba, the centre-left daily Delo believes:

“Without doubt it is largely thanks to Obama that a new page in the relations between the two countries has been turned. At the end of his second mandate Obama wanted to be able to show at least one historic success. The regime in Havana has also become more flexible, and apparently the Vatican - and the pope personally - also played an important role in the secret negotiations. ... Just two years ago Barack Obama affirmed he had no plans to visit Cuba. But the circumstances have matured in the meantime, not least because the two key players, Obama and Castro, will in any event soon make their departure from the political stage. History is in the making in Cuba.”

Polityka (PL) /

Tourists can rejoice

The opening up of Cuba will make it a highly attractive tourist destination, the centre-left news magazine Polityka believes:

“Already last year 160,000 US tourists visited the country despite limitations on where they could go on the island. In total 3.5 million tourists visited the island [in 2015]. Most of them weren't so interested in the beaches. What they wanted was a tour of a kind of tropical socialist open-air museum that in the coming years is likely to turn into a modern and expensive holiday mecca offering all kinds of entertainment for everyone.”

ABC (ES) /

No real change in Havana

Cuba's new direction betrays nothing more than a hidden economic agenda, the conservative daily ABC warns:

“The Castro regime has not changed its fundamental nature and has no intention of doing so. It hasn't even tried to pretend. Just a few hours after Obama's arrival in Havana dozens of dissidents were arrested. … It is impending economic collapse that has driven Castro to look to the United States, a turnaround that means that in future he won't be able to blame the 'imperialist enemies' for all the things that don't work on the island. It is probable that the opening of trade and foreign contacts will strengthen the middle class and weaken the dictatorship, but for this to happen it's important to continue supporting the democrats in the country and not the dictatorship.”