Carlos Eire: The speech never given

Carlos Eire is professor of history at Yale and author of the National Book Award-winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. At Babalú Blog, which is providing invaluable commentary on President Obama’s Cuban interlude, Professor Eire has posted the column below as “The speech never given, the op-ed never published.” Professor Eire provides a prefatory note indicating that he “offered the essay below to The Washington Post and The New York Times. The Post was decent enough to tell me very quickly — at least — that they had already published “too many” op-ed pieces on Cuba for the week and couldn’t publish any more. The NYT — predictably — didn’t even reply. Three days later, this insignificant uppity little spic is still waiting for a reply. It’s written for non-Cubans. We Cubans know all this stuff all too well. But here it is. Maybe it will get passed around beyond the confines of South Florida and other places of exile around the globe.” In the interest of widening the reach of Professor Eire’s column, and with Professor Eire’s kind permission, I’m posting the column below. Professor Eire writes:

The speech Obama should deliver in Havana, but never will

President Obama will have a unique opportunity [this] week.

No, it’s not his trip to Cuba itself that is so unique; after all, Calvin Coolidge visited the island when Fidel Castro was a little boy. His golden opportunity is the chance he will have to deliver a memorable speech to the Cuban people in the presence of Raul Castro and the military junta that has ruled Cuba for fifty-seven years.

President Obama could deliver an iconic speech that would forever enshrine his legacy in the annals of American presidential history, placing him in the same league with Lincoln at Gettysburg, Roosevelt at his first inauguration, or Kennedy and Reagan at the Berlin Wall.

It’s an opportunity he will squander, however. No doubt about it.

Instead of telling Raul Castro what he needs to hear, or exposing the dictator’s human rights abuses to the world, President Obama will probably focus on his own legacy and dwell on platitudes carefully crafted to placate his host and irritate his critics.

Nonetheless, in the highly unlikely chance that he might want to take a stab at genuine statesmanship, here is a speech he could deliver in Havana , sufficiently laced with the president’s usual references to himself and his own place in history.

Obama’s Havana Address

President Raul Castro, I am proud to come to this city as your guest, and grateful for the chance to address you, your Council of Ministers, your Council of State, and the Cuban people..

I have not come here to praise you, however. Sometimes, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for guests to speak frankly and lay aside the gilded norms of diplomatic etiquette.

Seven years and half a century ago, you and your brother stole this country from the Cuban people and established yourselves as absolute monarchs.

Your brother Fidel sat on the throne first, ruthlessly crushing all opponents for forty-seven long years, and then, when he became too feeble to rule, you assumed his blood-soaked mantle.

Your shameful record of human rights abuses speaks for itself.

You have executed and disappeared so many thousands of Cubans that a precise number of victims cannot be reckoned.

You have crushed dissent and imprisoned a higher percentage of your own people than most other modern dictators, including Stalin. You have condoned and encouraged torture and extrajudicial killings, and continue to do so, flagrantly.

You have censored and continue to censor all means of expression and communication.

You have driven nearly twenty percent of your people into exile, and prompted thousands to meet their deaths at sea, unseen and uncounted.

Enslaving your own people is not your only crime against humanity, however.

Shortly after I was born, you and your brother aimed nuclear warheads at my country and brought the entire world to the brink of annihilation. Ever since, you have allied yourself with my country’s deadliest enemies, fomented violence overseas, and striven to turn other nations against us.

Now, fifteen months after I extended a hand of friendship to you, I have come here to remind you of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. : “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Now, here in Havana, I urge you to free your own people, the Cuban people. Let your fellow Cubans breathe free, let them join the rest of the civilized world.

Tear down your repressive machinery, Raul. Step down from your throne and call for free and fair elections, and freedom of expression and assembly. Free your political prisoners. Allow Cubans to travel freely. Open up the internet in Cuba, open up a free market economy, tear down all your state-owned and state-run monopolies.

Do the right thing, Raul, drop dead or go away, and take your brother and your military junta with you.