A news photo at Revolution Square caught Obama standing together with American and Cuban officials, with an enormous mural of the iconic revolutionary Che Guevara looming over his shoulder on the adjacent Ministry of the Interior building.
Che is, of course, ubiquitous on dorm-room walls and T-shirts in the United States, and a hero of the Cuban revolution. He also was a cold-blooded killer who set up the Cuban gulag and presided over summary executions of political prisoners (trials were, per Che, “an archaic bourgeois detail”). No doubt, he would have been astonished at the Yanqui president coming to Revolution Square to pay his respects — and exceedingly pleased.
President Obama’s trip is self-consciously historic. As the president’s introducer at an event at the U.S. Embassy put it, Obama often said, “Yes, we can,” and now we can say, “Yes, we did.”
But did what? The trip ensures that the first visit to Cuba by an American president in almost 90 years will be part of Obama’s legacy, and it seeks to make his opening to Cuba, announced in December 2014, irreversible. If that means extending credibility and a financial lifeline to a Castro regime that has no intention of reforming, so be it.
The regime made it clear that it wouldn’t bother with maintaining a pretense of relaxing its grip, with the arrest of protesters at a march of the dissident group Ladies in White while President Obama was en route to the country. A reporter with a government news outlet told the New York Times that he and colleagues had been warned not even to discuss Obama’s visit with friends.