It’s not only the sign of a post colonial era when Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro welcome Obama, it’s recognition of a totally new era: one of global uncertainty shared by all, a play with a whole host of new characters who go by a multi-faceted set of new rules.
You can mark the date: April 17, 2009 is to the Cuban/American standoff what November 9, 1989 was to the Cold War. On November 9, 1989, I had just taken delivery of the first copies of my book that had foreseen the reunification of Europe from its provincial French publisher, when I heard the news that the Berlin Wall had fallen. I toasted the event with my Italo-German philosopher neighbors and told them that within a year Germany would be reunited. They didn’t believe me. Germany was officially reunited on October 3, 1990, with a month to spare on my prediction
Now I’ll make a similar prediction: that the United States will reestablish full diplomatic relations with Cuba by the end of this year. I realize I am sticking my neck out further than I did in 1989, and I would not put such a short time frame on this event were it not for the tiger.
The tiger is the growing number of crises mentioned above. It is many striped and will require many riders to rein it in. As in the old expression “who’s doing what to whom?” it’s no longer possible to visualize the world as a neatly labeled set of problems: Communist, Fascist, Liberal, Fundamentalist, Black, Brown, Yellow, Red, White - even doctor, lawyer, terrorist.
The rescue by Navy Seals of an American merchant marine captain off the coast of Somalia shows how intertwined every aspect of the global challenge is. More importantly, the players include an ever wider range of characters, that form a new human web, as the historian William McNeill so aptly puts it.
It’s been fashionable to comment on the fact that American supremacy no longer goes unchallenged. Depending on one’s ideology this is either welcomed or deplored. What became clear with the Mersk Alabama is that not only the world’s most powerful navy cannot blow away a bunch of fishermen in a fragile vessel. It’s that even united, the world’s navies cannot keep order on the high seas. (My suggestion on that front is for merchant vessels to travel in formations.)
Even together, the world’s governments cannot wave a magic wand over global warming, their armies cannot intervene in every dogmatic squabble between fundamentalist warlords - or warlords who are after gold, uranium, or whatever. And today’s peons may be tomorrow’s lords: Bolivia’s Indian president is determined that his country’s lithium deposits (the second largest in the world and a key element in the automobile batteries that can replace gasoline) continue to belong to Bolivia.
With all these tigers running around, U.S. Cuba relations would be trifling, were it not for the fact that the Latin American riders know it’s Cuba that put them up there. So if the United States wants dependable partners to resolve the Mexican - not Cuban - drug crisis it must now count Cuba as a rider, not a tiger. When considering wider problems, the growing web of relations between China and Latin America also marks a change from 50 years ago, when Castro came to power, or even some 20 years ago when the Berlin Wall fell.
Lamentations about President Obama failing to carry out his campaign promises fail to take into account two things: the ever-increasing rapidity of change in a multi-polar world in which ordinary individuals play powerful roles; and the fact that Obama is the only political figure who has the strength and the cunning, as well as the ethical worldview, to be lead tiger rider.
Reestablishing relations with Cuba will be about giving up Guantanamo (a Cuban expectation when everything is on the table), as well as de-demonizing socialism and moving toward a global social-democracy. Obama was referring to his world view when he said we need to get away from ideology and implement policies that enable all people to have a decent life.
Watch for regular references to that political philosophy. They will indicate whether he is implementing his campaign promises. Less than 100 days into his mandate, the plans Obama has announced to prevent total collapse and create a more stable future have the the right-wing in a frenzy. They don’t even want to build high-speed rail! Obama pointed out that they exist elsewhere, but unfortunately not here. This will allow him to point out the same with respect to health care, the first step toward overcoming fifty years of fear of the state. And that is what must happen if pirates of all stripes are to be won over. The do not need to be defeated, but simply given the opportunity to organize their lives and those of their peoples with dignity. And equality is the prime ingredient in that aspiration.
No one country, nor alliance can defeat the tiger of inequality. Until now, it would be unthinkable for the governments of Latin America to join with America in any cause, because America has been their main problem. The reestablishment of relations with Cuba will allow Latin America, North America, Europe, and other forwarding looking countries to join in making this happen.
In doing so, both Cuba and the United States will become more social democratic, as a first example of what needs to happen worldwide if the tiger of hunger-driven chaos is to be tamed.