Marking the end of a troubled – some would say openly hostile – era, the image of U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro shaking hands at the recent Summit of the Americas in Panama was revolutionary.
And even as President Castro berated the U.S. for its treatment of his country for over half a century, he made it a point to apologize to Obama for his harsh words saying that it was all before Obama’s time.
“Obama’s time” as president of the United States – the first Black president of the United States – has been marked by a rising wave of anti-Black racism in America, which has come to broad public attention in more recent times by a steady stream of video recordings of White police officers killing unarmed Black men all across the country.
America’s first Black president faced the challenge of dealing with the aftermath of the U.S. military retaliation in Afghanistan following the attacks on September 11, 2001 on New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
He also had on his plate the controversial U.S. invasion of Iraq. Then, there was the economic meltdown that threatened the entire world economy as the junk bond and junk mortgage juggernaut began to disintegrate banks and financial firms.
As Obama took office, the American economy was in a nosedive and heavily indebted to China, from which Washington was borrowing to continue financing its military activities. The unemployment rate signalled a depression.
As with every president, despite the monumental slate of tasks before him, Obama would not, nor should he, escape criticism. The same president who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has also had to give the go ahead to add more troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, before being able to fulfill his promise of bringing soldiers home.
Obama has also had to weather criticism for using drone warfare in battling al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan. And, he has faced a barrage of criticism from some sectors of the African-American population for not saying and doing enough to solve some of their most pressing problems. This after receiving near total voter support from them.
Obama, a Democrat, has also faced fierce resistance from the opposing party, the Republicans, who have made it their mission every step of the way to try to undermine his legacy.
When this U.S. president went so far as to adopt the very health insurance platform proposed by the Republicans as a compromise in getting this historic program enacted, they raged against it and derisively renamed it “Obamacare”.
Regardless, he was able to accomplish what many presidents before him had only promised, and brought a nationalized healthcare insurance program into reality.
Now, under Obama’s watch, the freeze that has stood between Cuba and the U.S. since the Kennedy era is coming to a close. This does not mean that there are not many issues still to be resolved.
Obama did not bring news that Cuba was no longer on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, for instance. And, Castro stated that on matters such as human rights, the two governments have “agreed to disagree”.
Promisingly, Obama made the point while addressing all the leaders at the summit that the days of U.S. meddling in regional affairs would have to change. That would be a tougher message to accept given America’s history of military and covert interference throughout the region from Chile, to Panama, to Jamaica to Cuba.
Yet, the desire to believe the U.S. president, characterized by Castro as “an honest man”, was clearly a significant sentiment expressed by those gathered at the summit.
The race to select the next U.S. president has already begun, signaling that Obama is in the final days of his historic administration.
In spite of the many challenges he has had to face, we believe history will view Obama’s term in office with favour.