NEW YORK CITY — Something unexpected happened last week. According to Hillary Clinton, she recommended to President Obama to end once and for all the embarrassing embargo imposed on Cuba more than half a century ago. In the words of Ruben Blades, “life gives you surprises.”
Some insist that Clinton’s conversion, from staunch advocate of the United States’ outdated policy toward Cuba to enemy of a blockade longer than a poor man’s hopes, began in April 2012. It was a warm night in the sensual city of Cartagena, Colombia, and the Secretary of State, after the closing of the Sixth Summit of the Americas, drank a couple of glasses of beer, let down her hair and danced a “mucho caliente” rumba in a bar called Café Habana.
“The thing is, Hillary regretted that she couldn’t go dance in the real Havana,” someone wrote in Facebook after her new position about Cuba became known. Could well be. Those warm Caribbean nights have unpredictable effects.
While it’s difficult to be sure that her metamorphosis was caused by the tropical heat, Clinton undoubtedly knows that an increasing number of people — read potential voters for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — understand that continuing a policy of more than 50 years of failure makes no sense at all.
Otherwise, Hillary the Habanera, as many playful Cartageneros began to call her, after her night of rumba, would have kept her mouth shut.
The embargo “wasn’t achieving its goals and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America,” Clinton told Obama, as she states in “Hard Choices,” her new book, on sale this week.
Personally, I know for a fact that in 2000, when I interviewed her for the New York Daily News during her first senatorial campaign, Clinton did not think that way. After a conversation that lasted almost one hour, I asked her a question that I had reserved for the end.
“Finally, Mrs. Clinton,” I said, more or less, “not long ago you wrote the book ‘It Takes a Village,’ in which you express your concern over the well-being of children. Don’t you think then that we should lift the embargo against Cuba, which makes life so difficult for the children over there?”
Undeterred, she spoke to her aides: “Well, we have to go, it’s late.” And with those words and a courteous “Thank you,” she ended the interview.
Everyone who saw her dancing in the beautiful Cartagena two years ago says that Clinton enjoyed herself tremendously. Looking back, it may have been the last time she did. The Sixth Summit of the Americas was a futile event marred by the Secret Service scandal that saw agents consorting with prostitutes in the finest “Ugly American” style.
As I wrote at the time, there is an inescapable irony in the fact that the U.S. Secretary of State chose a Cuban bar to let down her hair after working hard to, well, isolate Cuba and keep it out of the Summit.
She achieved that — with Obama’s blessing — but, as they say in Havana, the whole thing backfired because it was the U.S. that emerged more isolated from the Summit. As a protest against Cuba’s exclusion, all the chiefs of state present, with the exception of Canada, refused to sign a final joint declaration.
Two years later, during the O.A.S. General Assembly, which ended last week in Asunción, Paraguay, the United States — which didn’t learn much of anything — again remained isolated when, against its imperial will, all Latin American and Caribbean delegates supported the unconditional presence of Cuba at the next Summit of the Americas, set for April 2015 in Panama.
Otherwise, Ecuador, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Argentina will not participate.
Let’s keep our hopes in check, but maybe the next Summit will be the time to let down our hair, dance the rumba and quaff a beer to celebrate the return of Cuba and, who knows?, even if Hillary is not in the mood to celebrate, the end of the blockade.
Albor Ruiz, Progreso Weekly
June 11, 2014