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Obama's Historic Cuba Visit: The View From Latin America

U.S. President Barack Obama in Havana on March 20
U.S. President Barack Obama in Havana on March 20
Giacomo Tognini

HAVANA — President Barack Obama's historic three-day visit to Cuba heralds the long-awaited end of the Cold War in Latin America, 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and 15 months since the two erstwhile foes announced their surprise rapprochement.

Newspapers in the region, and beyond, covered Obama's visit — the first by an U.S. president since 1928 — as a turning point in the geopolitics of the Western Hemisphere.


President Obama's visit was met with very different reactions across the political spectrum in Cuba. State-owned daily Granma dryly reported on the visiting President's schedule of meetings with senior government officials and trips to prominent Havana monuments, conspicuously excluding his plans to meet with local dissidents. Opposition website Diario de Cuba, run from Madrid, detailed the crackdown on protesters Sunday in the hours leading up to Obama's arrival. And though it praised Obama's efforts, the website harshly criticized his decision to reconcile with the Castro government, maintaining that there can be no normalization of relations as long as Cubans suffer political, social and economic repression. Meanwhile, renowned blogger Yoani Sánchez emphasized the symbolism behind Obama's trip on her blog, Generación Y, emphasizing that a black Cuban president remains a very distant prospect for Cuba's millions of people of color.

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The historic nature of the visit offered a respite in the U.S. press from the bickering of the current primary campaign season. Despite many still unanswered questions, as well as diehard pockets of opposition to any ties with Cuba, the visit has largely been hailed as one of the signature moments in Obama's 7-year-long presidency.

USA Today"s lead editorial noted Cuba's "immense symbolic importance for Americans," and called the images of an American president in Havana "startling, refreshing, novel." Saying that while key parts of the embargo against Cuba remain in place, Obama's loosening restrictions on banking and travel are bound to eventually reverse the regime's repression against its own people. "This trip will provide momentum to make these changes stick and to make further reforms inevitable."


Colombian newspapers declared Obama's arrival as a day that would go in the history books. Bogotá-based El Tiempo called it the final nail in the coffin for the Cold War, setting the stage for an irreversible warming of relations between the two former adversaries. Medellín's El Colombiano reflected on the differences between Obama's visit and the previous one by an American president, Calvin Coolidge's in 1928: Then, the visiting president was a Republican free market fundamentalist in a time of segregation; now, Obama — the country's first black president — is a man who took office during the Great Recession and pioneered a less confrontational foreign policy.


Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has aligned himself with Cuba's government, and the country's press touched on political tensions in Havana. Quito-based daily El Comercio reported on the president's plans to meet with local dissidents but not with revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, highlighting Havana's disapproval of his wishes.


Venezuela is a key ally of the Castro government, and President Nicolás Maduro was in Havana the night before Obama's arrival. State-owned daily El Correo del Orinoco commended Washington's change in tone and diplomacy that brought about the visit, but added that the U.S. continues to illegally operate a military prison in Guantanamo Bay and pursue economic policies that harm many countries in Latin America. Caracas-based El Universal instead chose to focus on a Cuban police crackdown on opposition protesters in the capital ahead of the visit: Officers interrupted a march of the "Ladies in White" and arrested around 50 women, calling them "American mercenaries."


Leading Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo focused on doubts about Obama's visit in the Cuban community in Havana and Miami alike. Locals and emigrants both admired the president's decision to visit but expressed their fear that little would change in the island, and that it would take a long time to fully move on from decades of hostility with Cuba's northern neighbor.


In Peru, which is facing a divisive presidential election this year, several newspapers emphasized the persistent lack of democracy in Cuba. Lima-based newspaper El Comercio wrote that nothing has changed regarding human rights and civil liberties in Cuba since the U.S. re-established relations — and actually, things may have gotten worse. The daily featured interviews with local and exiled dissidents claiming that though the sight of a U.S. president touring Havana made for good politics, they were doubtful it would pressure Havana into conceding more political rights to its citizens.


Buenos Aires-based newspaper La Nación drew parallels between Cuba's slow pace of reintegration with the world and China's in the 1970s. Cubans now have unprecedented access to the Internet, private business and entrepreneurship — and Obama's visit is a hopeful sign for the future — but the daily concludes that the country still has a long way to go to becoming a bona fide democracy.


South of the border, leading daily El Universal focused on the wave of American tourists and businessmen that will head to Cuba after Obama's visit. The newspaper considered whether the visit will herald the return of the significant political, economic and cultural power that Americans once held on the country before its communist revolution in 1958.


Santiago-based newspaperLa Tercera struck a far more positive tone than many of its regional counterparts, illustrating the "new Cuba" that has arisen in the past decade. President Obama will witness a country transformed by the legalization of private ownership in certain sectors, the end of travel restrictions with the U.S., and a host of other social and political changes that have improved the lives of Cubans both at home and abroad.


Many around the world have speculated whether Obama's visit will lead to more democratization in Cuba. In Uruguay, Montevideo-based daily El Observador reported on Havana's loud denial of any such political change. Cuban officials painted the rapprochement as tacit American recognition of Cuba's political system, and stressed that communist rule will persist on the island.

Here are some more front pages from around the world:


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Miami Herald


[rebelmouse-image 27090038 alt="""" original_size="750x1074" expand=1]

Corriere della Serra: "Obama, a historic landing"


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L'Humanité: "Barack Obama discovers the Cuba Libre"


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Publico: "Obama wants to show a change we can believe in"

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