It will still take quite a while for Cubans to see the change Obama waxed about. But before his visit it really did seem to most of them that their only option was “socialism or death.”

Or leaving.

On Tuesday morning something vastly different got beamed in.

—Tim Padgett ’84

Few journalists understand Cuba better than Tim Padgett ’84, who has covered events on the island nation and throughout Latin America as an award-winning reporter for Newsweek, TIME Magazine, and now as Americas Correspondent for National Public Radio affiliate WLRN-Miami and the Miami Herald. He’s also a frequent contributor to NPR’s Here and Now.

Padgett has interviewed more than 20 heads of state, including former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, and he was one of the few U.S. correspondents to sit down with the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during his 14-year rule. In 2005, Padgett received Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Prize, the oldest international award in journalism, for his body of work from the region.

Padgett brought insights gained from years of covering Cuba and Cuban exiles to his reports in advance of the President’s visit as Cuban police rounded up dissidents.

And check out his memorable commentary from Havana for WLRN-Herald News in the visit’s aftermath. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the historic changes taking place in that country and in our world.

Padgett writes:

Shortly after Barack Obama’s historic speech in Havana Tuesday morning, I met a smart, 34-year-old Cuban accountant named Kariel González in the Vedado district.

He’d listened to President Obama on the radio, and he was cheering the U.S. leader’s last line – ¡Sí Se Puede! – a Spanish rendering of his iconic campaign slogan, Yes We Can!

González said he’d already heard Cubans repeat the soundbite on the sidewalks. “It’s the sort of thing that makes Obama so popular on the island,” he told me.

Meaning, ¡Sí Se Puede! is a hell of a lot cooler mantra than the dreary, Soviet-style mottos Cuba’s communist leaders have slathered on billboards and airwaves for half a century. Like ¡Socialismo O Muerte! – Socialism Or Death! Now there’s a political jingle for the GroupMe generation!

Obama’s clever sign-off seemed to have emboldened Cubans like González to praise, out loud, the meatier content of the address – including Obama’s remarkably direct call to Cuba’s President Raúl Castro to adopt democratic reforms.

Read and listen to more of Padgett’s work in the links below:

Cuba’s Communist State Now a Client of Its Capitalist Entrepreneurs

Dissidents Arrested Hours Before Obama’s Arrival

Cuban Government, Citizens in Different Moods on Eve of Historic Visit

—Steve Charles