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Cuba, Argentina Ready For Softer U.S. Relations After Historic Obama Visits

Argentina's president Mauricio Macri chats with the President Obama during his visit to Argentina on March 23, 2016.
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Argentina's president Mauricio Macri chats with the President Obama during his visit to Argentina Wednesday.

President Obama made a historic trip to Cuba this week – the first by a sitting U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge visited the island nation 88 years ago.

Obama said he wanted the trip to signify the end of the Cold War in Latin America. The 44th president wasn’t even born yet when Congress enacted a trade embargo after the Fidel Castro-led communist takeover in 1959.

University of Oklahoma international studies professor Alan McPherson is an expert on U.S. relations with Latin America, and says the president wants to move beyond ideological struggles not just in Havana, but throughout the region.

“I think the trip as a whole showed this both by going to Cuba and, in a sense, making peace with the Left, and then going to Argentina and making peace with the Right,” McPherson said.

Argentina just elected a new president, and McPherson says the country is so politically divided that it would’ve been too touchy for Obama to visit the country under the previous government led by the Peronist president Christina Fernández de Kirchner. McPherson credits former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with much of Obama’s current outlook toward Latin America, and expects that to continue if the Democratic presidential candidate wins the White House in November.

“She's one of the people early on in the Obama administration who said, ‘Let's acknowledge the past U.S. mistakes in Latin America,’ as Obama has done,” McPherson said. “But at the same time let's not get bogged down in ideology. Let's move forward. Let's be pragmatic.”

For the past two decades, Western Hemisphere countries have gathered for a Summit of the Americas every three years. McPherson says most Latin American countries weren’t interested in holding another series of meetings without Cuba, which he describes as a major factor that pushed Obama to renew relations with the country in 2014. Cuba made its debut at the seventh summit last year.

McPherson says American investors are interested in the island, but major changes will be slow, especially when it comes to the political climate. But he thinks the Cuban people are hopeful and ready, even if their infrastructure isn’t even close.

“They don't have the roads. They don't have the administrators. They don't have the bandwidth,” McPherson said. “So there's all sorts of problems with trying to run a 21st century economy in what's really a mid-20th century infrastructure.”

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Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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