(Photo: usatoday.com)

A lecture series this March promoted by the Barcelona Athenaeum (Ateneu Barcelonès) proposed a suggestive and provocative question with the title: “War, the diplomacy of the weak?“. The basic question helps us to understand the context and the magnitude of President Obama’s visit to Cuba.

If the traditional answer of the American Foreign Policy, faced with a third State conflict, was based on military response: sending troops, invading sovereign states; promoting coups d’êtat and dictatorships where fragile democracies where blooming … the Obama doctrine (a must read slowly cooked recommended article by Jeffrey Goldberg)… has mutated the DNA and soul of the US approach to international affairs in a conflict between unequals (e.g. elephant vs. ant): the best case scenario solution is not the use of force or imposition, but an inclusive otherness attitude, smartness and seduction. Cuba and Iran may be an example of this new paradigm.

Obama has broken with Cuba the most important untouchable taboo in American modern politics: “Do not touch Cuba. Leave it to the freezer“. Since the powerful House of Representatives approved the blockade (1960 and 1962), with permanent monitoring of the influential Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, three presidents have tried to overcome different Cuban solutions. All of which were met with opposition boycott by powerful internal actors:

  • Leaders of the exiled Cuban community in Miami influencing the Republican and Democratic establishment to keep the island in a cul de sac;
  • The most old-fashioned State Department, the Diplomatic Service and the Defense Department hawks opposed any gesture of detente;
  • Even Secret Services derailed attempts to a peaceful approach.

Obama overcome this internal resistance with economic forces, a generation change in Florida and involving political and institutional actors able to face the old guard Democrats and Republicans bureaucrats, asking naturally “whether 50-year embargo did not work, why not try an everybody win-win alternative?“.

The margin of action of the president is not symbolic, but the main actor and the only one able to suspend the blockade is the House of Representatives -with few realistic forecasts of majority change in the short run. Yet Obama invite to the official trip prominent congressmen, senators and diplomats who opposed openness and further action to facilitate the Cuban transition. With this gesture, wants to involve critics on considering the consequences of their votes -in a short and mid-term- in the daily life of regular Cubans.

Today only radical extreme opposing advanced stage of conflict resolution in Cuba that is the Republican primary frontrunners. Every time there are fewer obstacles to the final negotiating strategy towards the US embargo end in exchange for the guarantee of Cuban Political Rights -Freedom of speech, Political Pluralism, Freedom of Press, Amnesty for Political prisioners …

As with the Health Care reform, president Obama in Cuba has gone further than ever before its predecessors.

The Obama administration has transformed the US unilateral traditional realism -now copied by Putin- in Foreign Policy to a multilateral internationalism scenario. The Cuban chapter required intelligence and horizontal diplomacy. Obama and Pope Frances share common ideological concerns and mission. Never before had there been such harmony between Washington and Vatican City. What once was a handicap for JFK, today is an asset. Fidel Castro had written about in the early 70s: “only when a president of color was in the White House and a Jesuit in the Vatican, the US – Cuban conflict will enter a solution time“.

The influence curia of the Vatican Diplomacy -Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State influential and with an extensive experience and knowledge in Latin America; Jaime Ortega, Archbishop of Havana and the Pope Bergolio him self- have been the discreet partners of Kenneth Hackett, US envoy in Rome; Secretary of State Kerry and president Obama.

One of the first “thank yous” Obama made public at the joint press conference with president Castro – on Monday March 22nd- was aimed to the Vatican.

President Castro opened his political, ideological and leadership zoom-out defendingwe must learn to live with our differences“; but the same zoom closes-in automatically when the American journalists asked about political prisoners:

  • This is where the press conference enters an unchartered dimension and lack of control;
  • Castro is not used to face uncomfortable questions and over stages his displeasure, with his hand cutting gesture and “y basta! (enough!)”; he isn’t used either to the simultaneous translation earphones.

The joint press conference ended with an awkward off-scripted gesture: president Castro wants to raise Obama’s hand -looking for an iconic “victory” image- but this gesture bothers Obama, who avoids the issue by the impact and political inconvenience this photo-op would have.

President Obama, in shirtsleeves and holding an umbrella, waving Cuban people on street, letting himself take photos and receiving their affection; or the fraternity baseball match, are some of the images that let this historic visit: a charismatic and seductive US president.

These images want to be the “answer” to the Fidel Castro and the Cuban delegation visit in New York in 1960 on the occasion of the UN General Assembly. After a conspicuous and distorting trip beginning the Cuban delegation moved to Harlem one of the African American most fragile neighborhoods in the city. The choice was not accidental. Their will was building bridges and sympathy with the African American community, for the Cuban Revolution:your civil rights struggle, liberation and the black people emancipation is also ours“.

This decision became a shocking event. Harlem became the hub and simmer in the city of New York: international diplomatic delegations, people all over the city and public figures “occupied” and focused to discover Harlem visiting the humble inn where bearded cuban revolutionary delegation were hosted.

The climax of this visit is president Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana to speak directly to the Cuban people, their living forces and representatives of the Cuban civil society. This speech has been thought and designed to be in the Olympus of presidential speeches. It’s the most unique ocasion to stage messages, narrative, attitudes and gestures of the soul and the leadership of the president with an eye to the future.

This Habana speech has a big brother: the Cairo University address to the Muslim world (2009). Both speeches aim to overcome significant conflicts, tear down prejudices and fears; both want to build trust with the non-traditional partners. The mission: to persuade and to fall in love.

Fostering the audience with open arms:

“I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.

And to President Castro -who I appreciate being here today- I want you to know my visit demonstrates u don’t need to fear a threat from US. I’m also confident you need not fear the different voices of the Cuban people, their capacity to speak, assemble, and vote for their leaders.

And I’ve always believed in what Martin Luther King, Jr. called “the fierce urgency of now” we should not fear change, we should embrace it.”

Admitting first hand self-made errors:

“The blue waters beneath Air Force One once carried American battleships to this island to liberate, but also to exert control over Cuba. I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas. I come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.

Before 1959, some Americans saw Cuba as something to exploit, ignored poverty, enabled corruption. And since 1959, we’ve been shadow-boxers in this battle of geopolitics and personalities. I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it.

What the United States was doing was not working. We have to have the courage to acknowledge that truth. A policy of isolation designed for the Cold War made little sense in the 21st century. The embargo was only hurting the Cuban people instead of helping them.”


“Today, like José Martí in his most famous poem “cultivo una rosa blanca“, as president of the US I offer the Cuban People un saludo de paz”.

Martí said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest, to think and to speak without hypocrisy.”

Just consider this fact about the US campaign: You had two Cuban Americans in the Republican Party running against the legacy of a black man who is President, while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic Socialist!!”


“There’s no secret that our governments disagree on many issues. For many years, President Castro has pointed out the flaws in the US system: economic inequality; death penalty; racial discrimination; wars abroad… That’s just a sample… He has a much longer list…”

Shared views:

“The differences between our governments over many years are real and they are important. But we also need to recognize how much we share. We’ve been on different sides of conflicts in the Americas. But today, Americans & Cubans are helping th Colombian people resolve a civilwar.”


“I believe our grandchildren will look back on this time of isolation as an aberration, just one chapter in a longer story of family and friendship. So the reconciliation of the Cuban people -children and grandchildren of the revolution, and children and grandchildren of exile- it’s fundamental.

The recognition of a common humanity, the reconciliation of people bound by blood and a belief in one another that’s where progress begins.”

Declaration of Principles:

“As President of the United States, I’ve called on our Congress to lift the embargo. It is an outdated burden on the Cuban people.

I’ve made it clear that the United States has neither the capacity, nor the intention to impose change on Cuba. What changes come will depend upon the Cuban people.

There’s still enormous problems in our society. But democracy is the way we solve them. That’s how we got health care for more of our people.”

Affective apealing:

“In the US, it’s possible for somebody like me -a child who was raised by a single mom, a child of mixed race who did not have a lot of money to pursue and achieve the highest office in the US. That’s what’s possible opening debates within our own democracy allows us to get better.

I’m appealing the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new. El futuro de Cuba está en manos del pueblo Cubano.

Understanding, listening & forgiveness. If the Cuban people face future together, young people of today will be able to achieve their dreams

We can make this journey as friends, and as neighbors, and as family together. Si se puede. Muchas gracias.”

The Cuban audience repeatedly responded to Obama’s soul with warmth, greetings, cheers of assent and assertiveness -despite the presence of President Castro and the highest ranking authorities of the Cuban Comunist Party: “We understand you, we like you, we fully identify with what you say“.

The Obama initiative and the courage with Cuba -”answering YES to the initial question: war is diplomacy weak, so our response must be another“- reconciles us and makes us fall in love with Good Major Politics. Good Politics are useful, necessary and the only way to restore confidence between the people and res publica. The -soft- Public Diplomacy is a good guide to safe navigation in times of uncertainty, fear, Donald Trumps, violence, fanaticism, suicide bombing, humanitarian crises, poverty and misery.

This attitude contrasts instead -with the Spanish Conserative Think tank- FAES doctrine on Cuba, inoculated and assimilated by Spanish Government and Foreign Service, strongly oppose the Castros regime and encourages a Venezuelan scenario style, uncommiting the progressive approach of Spain in its tradicitional regional role in Latin America as a bridge to the European Union. Also FAES stages a fearful answer to the question: “NO, war is not the diplomacy of the weak“. This is ideological prejudices winning the emotional intelligence. Spain continues on the road to irrelevance in the international arena and has renounced to be a diplomatic natural and relevant actor in the region.

In the other hand Catalonia has an interesting opportunity to exploit the vacuum and voluntary invisibility of Spanish diplomacy. Catalonia may serve as facilitator of exchanges and experiences, weaving initiatives, investments, opportunities and links with the authorities of the island and its social, cultural and economic forces. Will the Catalan Leaders be up to the challenge?

@aleixcuberes is @ingenia_pro’s founder & director. 

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