Obama's Visit to Cuba: Changing Everything? Or Nothing?

March 19,2016

On Monday, President Obama will speak directly to the Cuban people from Havana in a speech that the Cuban government says will be broadcast nationwide. Supporters say Obama's historic visit to Cuba is a “game-changer.” Detractors say it isn't changing anything.

Not too long ago, it would have been unthinkable for an American president to speak to the Cuban people. And the White House says in his remarks Obama will talk about greater freedoms for Cubans – even more unthinkable.

Experts say Obama’s speech – and his visit – will send a message of hope to the people on an island that’s entering a new phase.

FILE - U.S writer Peter Kornbluh speaks to an audience about
FILE - U.S writer Peter Kornbluh speaks to an audience about "Back Channel to Cuba," in Havana, Oct. 13, 2014. Kornbluh thinks President Barack Obama will use his speech to Cubans as a way to find common ground between the two countries.

“He will in a sense say ‘I am respectfully visiting this country; we have our ideological differences, but that does not mean that we cannot find common ground and normalcy,' " said Peter Kornbluh, co-author of Back Channel to Cuba.

The Obama administration and supporters of the diplomatic restart between the two countries say the goal of the President's visit is to make the ties “irreversible.”

“I think in just five or six years, you're going to see full access to the Internet in Cuba, you're going to see a really, a fully mixed economy in Cuba, and we’ll be in the post-Castro era where frankly, political evolution is not only likely, but inevitable," Kornbluh said.

Critical of visit

Obama’s policy has staunch critics, who say the White House has given too many concessions to Cuba with nothing in return. They state conditions in the island remain unchanged and that repression has worsened.

“People are getting beat up, the Ladies in White, las Damas de Blanco, are getting beat up every Sunday," said Mike Gonzalez of the Heritage Foundation. "President Obama’s visit is only going to legitimize the regime to the world, to the United States and to the poor oppressed Cuban people who are going to say: who has my back now?”

FILE - Cuban security personnel detain members of the Ladies in White group during a protest on International Human Rights Day, in Havana, Dec. 10, 2014.

The White House argues more than 50 years of animosity didn’t get any results. But critics say the transition will not lead to democracy.

“We’re going to have, right at our doorstep, a situation akin to China where we have a communist dictatorship, slash, mafia family, fascistic regime controlling an island that’s only 90 miles from our border and we’re going to have that now for a very long time unless Mr. Obama’s policies are reversed by the next president," Gonzalez said.

That’s one reason detractors hope a Republican takes the White House in November. They have vowed to end the policy if they win the presidency – something the Obama administration is aiming to head off.