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 â€" 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 â€" the first by an U.S. president since 1928 â€" 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.



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 â€" the country’s first black president â€" 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 â€" 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 â€" and Obama’s visit is a hopeful sign for the future â€" 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 newspaper La 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:


Miami Herald


Corriere della Serra: "Obama, a historic landing"


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


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

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!