By Yoani Sanchez, June 10, 2008
Cuban cartoonists, those who made their fortune with Nixon’s nose or Reagan’s crumpled face, and who have painted Bush in unimaginable postures, have great difficulty with Barack Obama. If the Democratic candidate reaches the White House, the few newspapers of the Island will have to be very cautious with graphic humor against him. It will be a most delicate task to maintain the belligerent drawings without exaggerating the lips, flattening the nose, or coiling the hair in a way that makes a racist burlesque of the new American president.
But it’s not only the soldiers of pen and humor for whom things will be complicated. If Obama wins the election in November the political discourse of the Island will also be forced to redefine itself. In the nearly fifty years since the Revolution, the Republican candidates have fit better in the role of “enemy,” while the Democrats – in the style of Carter or Clinton – do not work as well in the game of confrontation. To top it off, Obama enjoys much sympathy among Cuban intellectuals, among the black population, and especially among the young people. He represents a generation that doesn’t carry the burdens of epics, nor rancor, and whose contemporaries in Cuba are light years from taking power.
The campaign of Barack Obama, grounded in the word “Change,” is very similar to the desires of the vast majority of Cubans, especially those between twenty-five and forty. So what has happened is unprecedented: In that “North” where the official propaganda focuses all the evils and vices, someone has appeared whose discourse we identify with. His age contrasts with the ancient faces of the septuagenarians governing Cuba, while his astute answers collide with the prefabricated discourse from our leaders. Without his intending it, Obama is the candidate most difficult for the Cuban government to imagine. There is no way that this Democrat would not alter the formula of confrontation that, for five decades, has resulted in keeping maximum political control in the hands of the Island’s authorities.
The list of issues affecting relations between Cuba and the United States today is overwhelming, and the young North American candidate has barely touched on certain topics. The commercial blockade (embargo), the prohibition against U.S. citizens visiting the island, the indemnifications claimed by both sides, the very existence of an American program to overthrow the Cuban regime, are perhaps the most burning. It would be unrealistic to believe that a president could solve all of this in a stroke of a pen, but Obama could impart a new direction to the conflict that – after so many years – seems to function almost on “autopilot.”
Another factor that favors Obama in the eyes of the Cuban people is that his opponent, Mr. McCain, perfectly fits the mold of the adversary that the regime needs to maintain itself. Not only was this gentleman captured in Vietnam, he had the rare privilege to pilot one of the airplanes that was preparing to bomb Havana if the Soviets had not dismantled the nuclear missiles installed on the Island in 1962. Therefore, the Revolutionaries and those sympathetic to the Cuban government see him as the next enemy that will dictate new “anti-Cuba measures”; while the opposition or dissatisfied know that the politics of confrontation have supported, over many years, the justification that a country besieged cannot permit either freedom of expression or association.
I do not know how much will change in Cuba if the American voters choose, next November, the government promised by Obama, but the mere possibility of seeing his young brown profile in the White House has already cracked the image of the “enemy” that the official media – and the hilarious cartoonists – have built over decades.
Published in Spanish in Contodos, Tuesday, June 10, 2008
A German version of this text appeared in the magazine Die Zeit