Monday, March 3, 2008

The "Un-Fidel"?

Just finished watching Brian Latell, senior research associate at UM's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS), on C-SPAN at a Heritage Foundation event (MP3 of speech included).

Those familiar with Latell's latest book (considered to include one of the first biographies of Raul Castro) will not be surprised that he spoke mainly about Cuba's new president: Raul Castro. He said that Raul was "the Un-Fidel," and "more flexible... more pragmatic," and open to "structural and conceptual changes" inside Cuba. But, Latell also warned the audience at the Heritage Foundation (which included former US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega and Frank Calzon from the Center for a Free Cuba) that Raul Castro is "playing with fire" with respect to open debate on the island and raising expectations. He sees unfulfilled promises in the short-term having unpredictable consequences, and therefore there's "no telling where Cuba will be [one] or two years from now."


I also noticed that Brookings has a full transcript of an event they held early last month called Cuba: Opportunities and Challenges. The event included several Cuba experts in four different panels. I finished reading the transcript of the first panel, and so far it provides an informative exchange of opinions.

Here's an excerpt from Jaime Suchlicki, director of ICCAS, talking about why we should keep the US embargo, until the Cuban government makes the first move:

"So, change in the policy now without a significant opportunity for change in Cuba, without a significant and irreversible quid pro quo from the Cuban government, would be a denial of 40 years of American foreign policy [and] would send a message to other [governments] in Latin America that we are willing to support a military government in Cuba, that we will be supporting a dictatorship by the succession, and therefore we're willing to start again."

On the same panel, Vicki Huddleston, former Deputy and Coordinator of the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs from 1989-1993 and Principal Officer at the United States Interest Section in Havana from 1999-2002, responds to Suchlicki in the Q&A session citing a different Cuba policy during the 90s:

"More [people] were coming into Cuba, more care packages were coming into Cuba, and more families were able to help their loved ones. And what did that mean? That meant the Cuban people were better off. And what does it mean when the Cuban people are better off? They have greater independence."

"It's not a concession to let people travel to see their families. It's not a concession to get people enough food so they don't want to risk a trip across the Straits. These are the things that empower people, and these are the things that we saw did make a difference in Cuba, and it did lead to [14,000] people signing a petition."

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