No one said the road to normal relations between the United States and Cuba would be smooth, not after 50 years of mutual enmity and distrust. Indeed, progress hit a few speed bumps yesterday during President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the island nation.
Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro outlined starkly different visions of their countries. More important was the powerful symbolism of the moment — Obama and a Castro, standing side by side, after a long, ineffective cold war. Obama rightly pronounced it a “new day.”
There were labor pains, primarily around the miserable human rights record of Raúl and Fidel Castro’s regime. Obama rightly said he will continue to press Cuba to make progress on democracy and freedom, as he does with other countries. Castro’s response that, essentially, Cuba has no political prisoners, was sadly familiar. He also called Obama’s criticism a double standard on human rights, chiding the United States for its failures on poverty, inequality and race relations. Castro said relations would blossom only with an accord on Guantánamo Bay and a lifting of the embargo. But cooperation came on air and sea travel, agriculture and medicine. Business deals will be signed.
Obama is on the right track. He knows he can’t force real change in Cuba. That must come from the Cuban people themselves. But he has faith in the process underway, that when Cubans meet Americans they will learn from each other and that change will follow. We agree.
Obama threw out a first pitch of sorts yesterday. He will attend a ballgame today between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba’s national team. The burgeoning relationship between Cuba and the United States will have plenty of curves and sinkers. But for now, we all should celebrate the fact that they’re finally playing ball. — The editorial board