President Barack Obama is urging Americans and Cubans to forget their differences and historical conflicts.
“I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas,” he said at the Grand Theater of Havana as the audience applauded. “I have come here to extend the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.”
He described the two nations as “two brothers” who were “estranged” even though they “shared the same blood,” referring to the European colonists who came to North America.
“I know the history, but I refuse to be trapped by it,” he said.
Obama specifically compared the important historical events between the two countries to his own biography, reminding the audience that the Cuban revolution took place the same year that his father came to the United States and the Bay of Pigs took place the same year he was born.
He recounted the bitter history of racism, slavery, and segregation in America, telling Cubans there were once laws against the intermarriage of black and white people. Free speech, the right to protest, and open political debates, he explained helped change the country. He reminded the audience that he was a mixed-race child born to a single mother and won the presidency in spite of his economic status.
“Because of those debates and because of popular mobilization, I’m able to stand here today as an African-American and as President of the United States,” he said proudly.
Obama also cited the 2016 election as an example of America’s progress and diversity of both race and ideas.
“You had two Cuban-Americans in the Republican party running against the legacy of a black man who was president while arguing that they’re the best person to beat the Democratic nominee who will either be a woman or a Democratic socialist,” he said. “Who would have believed that back in 1959?”
The Cuban audience cheered when Obama called for Congress to remove the United States embargo with the island. But rather than calling for an end to the oppressive Castro regime, Obama called for Cubans to lift themselves up in spite of their difficult political climate.
“Many suggested that I come here and ask the people of Cuba to tear something down,” Obama said, referring to Regan’s Berlin wall speech. “But I’m appealing to the young people of Cuba who will lift something up, build something new.”
“Sí se puede” he concluded, telling Cubans in Spanish that, “Yes we can.”