The Twelve Caesars

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on November 12, 2020

“Clandestina,” a small private business selling clothing that’s Cuban-designed in Old Havana, put this message on FaceBook on November 7:  “The drama is over.”  This summed up in a few words the collective feeling of relief felt upon hearing the news that there will be a new United States president after January 20.

The Joseph Biden victory created an emotion that was not so much satisfaction, as the feeling that a condemned man feels when they loosen the noose that is cutting off his breathing.  The worst administration in the history of the U.S. is about to end, and one that, in the midst of a deadly pandemic, carried out an implacable series of sanctions that seemed endless and that have harmed the common citizens of Cuba in all possible ways.

Donald Trump punished the Cubans without any more motive than a big dog has when it tries to get a bone: he cut the remittances, harassed the oil tankers, strangled the finances, crushed tourism, and told lies about the medical brigades that have confronted coronavirus.  As if this were not enough, he fantasized that a group of Florida emigre collaborators would secure him four more years in the White House.

I know of no other U.S.political figure that has generated more contempt.  It is difficult not to proclaim this sentiment vehemently toward someone who has earned the reputation of a tyrant, but also of laughingstock in chief.  Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a journalist with a pointed sense of humor, sarcastically asked us to be fair with the Republican president: “The only ones in the Trump administration who did their jobs were those in the anti-Cuba office.”  And even these are now abandoning the ship.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, an architect of the policies against Cuba and Venezuela in the White House and currently president of the InterAmerican Development Bank, congratulated Biden on his victory.  Trump must have felt that as a stab in the back.  Nobody would be surprised at a Trump tweet reminding Claver-Carone that he has that little old job thanks to him, because he picked him up from an obscure anti-Cuban lobby in Washington and made him a principal advisor on Latin American policy, before catapulting him upwards into the Bank.

That Cubans are expressing their relief doesn’t mean that they have any overwhelming enthusiasm. Psychologist Reina Fleitas commented to Inter-press Services that Biden has publicly promised a less restrictive policy toward Cuba “but many politicians promise and don’t keep their promises, or only partially keep them, and so we must not get up any false hopes.”

The political scientist Esteban Morales, co-author of an essential book for understanding the relations between the two countries, From Confrontation to Attempts at Normalization – The policy of the United States Toward Cuba, believes that, although Washington may let up the pressure “the impediment of wanting to control Cuba, which has been the intention and the goal of all U.S. policies, will never disappear.”

President Miguel Diaz-Canel has also been cautious: “We recognize that, in their presidential election, the people of the U.S. have chosen a new path.  We believe in the possibility of constructive bilateral relations which are respectful of our differences.”  Translated to the language of the people this means, according to Paquito Rodriguez Cruz, “we’d like a whole bunch of change, but we’re not going to act like we don’t know what’s really going on.”

Other Cubans have decided to celebrate the kick in the pants that millions of U.S. people have given the magnate, but for reasons that have more to do with the history between the two countries than with the election.  Trump is president number 12 of 12 U.S, presidents who have tried to destroy the Cuban Revolution since 1959 without being able to do so.

Writer Luis Toledo Sande has recalled that “Cuba has earned the right to celebrate the downfall of twelve Caesars who have tried to make Cuba submit.”  Others have also used the analogy of The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, underlining the often quoted phrase of the famous book by Suetonius: “The fox changes his skin but not his habits.”

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau