According to Experts, Cuba-U.S. Are Slowly Improving due to New Leadership
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- Politics and Government
- 09 / 25 / 2009
Two Latin American relations scholars discussed the potential “thaw” in the relationship between the U.S. and the communist state to an audience of about 15 Wednesday at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Wayne Smith, former executive secretary of President John F. Kennedy’s Task Force on Latin American Affairs, said the current American administration has taken steps to improve relations.
“There was a time back in the 60s when Cuba was an isolated country,” he said. “But we are moving in the right direction, albeit very slowly. [Barack] Obama is better than [George W.] Bush.”
Since Obama’s inauguration as president, the U.S. has chosen to communicate with Cuba rather than allowing tension to continue, Julia Sweig, Council on Foreign Relations Director for Latin American Studies, said.
Sweig, a Nelson and David Rockefeller senior fellow for Latin America Studies, said the U.S. administration officially allowed Cuba to participate in future Organization of American States summits last June.
However, she said, change is slow.
“The pace of change is like walking through peanut butter,” she said. “And my guess is that this [progress] will continue slowly. There is an unclear roadmap emanating from Washington.”
Smith said after the Cold War, Cuba no longer posed a threat to U.S. security and was open to reviving dialogue. But, he said, at the time the U.S. refused to lift any embargo or travel restrictions until Cuba became a democracy.
Although some travel restrictions between Cuba and the U.S. have been lifted, he said academic travel remains limited.
Smith said a bill that would lift all travel restrictions is currently in Congress.
“Just cross our fingers and hope that wiser heads push others in the administration to make a change,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sweig said, changes in Cuban leadership have helped alleviate the situation.
In 2006, she said, Fidel Castro became too ill to rule, leaving his brother, Raul, to take provisional rule. With this transition, Cuban people were better able to express concerns and grievances toward the government, which was a major step forward, she said.
As Cuba adopts more democratic practices, U.S. dialogue with the country—though still limited—has increased, Sweig said.
In 2008, Raul became the official president of Cuba and spoke extensively about reform.
“He spoke more like Margaret Thatcher than Karl Marx in his inaugural address,” Sweig said.
Castro has remained involved throughout this progress, which she said was to the detriment of progress.
“[Fidel] is the most aggressive backseat driver ever,” she said.
Audience members said discussion on the controversial topic is important for progress.
Ramon Lopez, 35, who is Dominican, said academic study of the area should be less restricted.
“Academic licenses are the most important issue that needs to be addressed,” he said. “Wayne and Julia shed new light on this issue, and, as a Latino, I agree that Latin American policy is very important.”
Boston resident Kimberly Guerra, 28, said she has been researching U.S.-Cuba relations lately.
“[The speakers] presented a slightly darker view of relations in Cuba than what I’ve seen in documentaries and films,” she said. “But it was definitely interesting.”
Wellesley College sophomore Terra Stanley said she is very interested in Latin American politics.
“I have a very strong belief that we need to strengthen ties with Cuba,” she said.
Source: The Daily Free Press