Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba will be remembered, in part, for the iconography it generates: a sometimes-Spanish-speaking Obama guest-starring on a Cuban sketch-comedy show; the president tweeting ¿Que bolá Cuba? (“What’s happening Cuba?”) as Air Force One touched tarmac at José Martí International Airport for the first time ever; the U.S. and Cuban leaders shaking hands.
On Sunday, as the trip got underway, one of Cuba’s most prominent bloggers wrote an article that’s worth keeping in mind amid all the talk of “historic” moments and images. She applauded Obama’s mastery of the symbolic—casting himself as good humored where Cuba’s leaders are humorless, as a member of the post-Bay of Pigs generation focused on the future rather than the past. But she didn’t necessarily describe that talent as a good thing.
“With each symbolic chord Obama touches in the popular imagination [of Cubans], he assumes a responsibility,” wrote Yoani Sánchez, a steadfast critic of the Castro government (and past Atlantic contributor). “The dreams of economic relief, the end of food shortages and improvements in the country’s infrastructure, are at their highest point this Sunday but have a short expiration date.” (I’m quoting from the English translation of Sánchez’s article, which originally appeared in Spanish on 14ymedio, a website she founded.)