“Here’s What Happened the Last Time a US President Visited Cuba”

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.

A prosperous and vastly freer Cuba greeted President Coolidge when he arrived on the island nation in 1928, to address not only the Pan-American delegates assembled in Havana but also to deflate the rumblings in his day to marginalize American influence and roll back her exchange of goods and services here and throughout Latin America. This was the last time a sitting President visited the island ninety miles to our south. Coolidge’s position, emphatically declared in his speech and through the American delegation led by Charles Evans Hughes, won the argument in his day. It would be another thirty years until the curtain fell on freedom, public order and due process, the openness that had been a hallmark of Cuba’s extraordinary rise from squandered Spanish conquest to sovereign republic. To condone the repression of the Cuban people by her own rulers — lifting America’s embargo without concessions — is a betrayal of our responsibilities, another occasion to debase the heritage of trust, independence and sound leadership on which our nation’s credibility has been built. America’s role in this hemisphere aspired to greater principles, against suppressive regimes and socialist economics. Instead Coolidge is part of the honorable legacy that stood for liberty, civil rights under the law, and freedom through capitalism for so long…until now. Yet, by displaying our new enforced condition as an “average,” unexceptional country, we are actualizing the current President’s concept of reality, the identity he has had in mind for us all along, a nation which has had it too good at the world’s expense for too long. Never mind that so many unprecedented opportunities for success and upward mobility exist by virtue of America’s answer to the call of service. Coolidge truly would not recognize these times.

President and Mrs. Coolidge, visit the estate of Cuba's president at the time, General Gerardo Machado y Morales, whose wife, Elvira, stands to Coolidge's right, January 19, 1928. Courtesy of the Associated Press.

President and Mrs. Coolidge visit the estate of Cuba’s president at the time, General Gerardo Machado y Morales, whose wife, Elvira, stands to Coolidge’s right, January 19, 1928. Courtesy of the Associated Press.

Commenting on this visit in his press conference the following day, President Coolidge summarized his impressions, “There is nothing I can say about the Pan American Conference that occurs to me, that has not already been said. Naturally our Government is pleased with my reception at Havana. One of the most pleasant opportunities that I had there was going out to the country place of the President, which gave me an opportunity to drive through quite a number of miles of Cuban territory where I had a chance to observe the people and see something of the progress they are making. As I left there it seemed to me that the conference was in a position to do very much excellent work” — January 20, 1928 (The Talkative President, Quint and Ferrell, p.251).

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