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Q&A: Enrique Sacerio-Garí on Cuba

Next Wednesday, April 16, Dorothy Nepper Marshall Professor of Hispanic and Hispanic-American Studies Enrique Sacerio-Garí will deliver the final talk in the "Our Neighbor, Cuba" lecture series sponsored by Main Line School Night. Sacerio-Garí, a Cuban immigrant who advocates reconciliation between his homeland and the United States, recently returned from a trip to Cuba. His lecture will take place at 7 p.m in Room 2 of Dalton Hall. It is free to Bryn Mawr students, faculty, and staff; members of the general public may enroll in the course through Main Line School Night at a cost of $19. Here, Sacerio-Garí briefly answers a few questions for Bryn Mawr Now.

Q: Your lecture is titled "Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom." Can you expound on that?

A: I take the title from "en la lucha" (in the struggle, often of everyday life), also from "la lucha continua" (the struggle continues) that refers to the persistence of the struggle of smaller nations to be free of the economic and political manipulations of colonial powers, and finally I recall the title Cuba’s Great Struggle For Freedom, published in 1895 by Gonzalo de Quesada.  Quesada contextualized the Cuban revolutionary war by presenting Latin American and Cuban historical information that went beyond what the "yellow press" was dishing out at the time.

Needless to say, the Cuban people are "en la lucha" to perfect their system of government and to negotiate longstanding socioeconomic issues from the "special period" that followed the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the implosion of the Soviet Union. Of course, those who struggle for more democracy and human rights in certain countries around the world must be ever-watchful and suspicious of the U.S role, for we know too well the history of U.S intervention in Latin America, not to mention more recent initiatives in other regions. The U.S. intervened in 1898 with the objective of excluding Cuban participation, not in defense of Cuban independence. Obvious still are the objectives of the U.S: an economic embargo that has been internationalized and codified by Congress, a blockade against which 184 U.N. members voted last year.

Q: If that much of the world is against the blockade, how is it still effective?

A: The economic embargo still affects Cuba deeply, especially as a result of the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. Both were passed in presidential-election years, and they ring with electoral concerns. In 2004 the travel regulations were intensified, eliminating the people-to-people programs that were established during the second Clinton administration, limiting family visits by Cuban-Americans to once every three years, and prohibiting visits to aunts and uncles or cousins.

The Helms-Burton Act states that any company that "traffics" with confiscated Cuban property could be sued in United States courts by their former owner. Cuba enacted a law to prohibit collaboration with these U.S. activities. Some of the dissidents who were jailed in Cuba in 2003 were summarily tried under these articles of law.

Q: The Act also talks about the human rights abuses in Cuba. What do you say to those who argue that the U.S. needs to take a hard line because of those abuses?

A:  Cuba will change because of legitimate internal pressure. Human-rights and economic-rights abuses should stop in every place of the planet that requires it, including the United States. But the U.S reserves for itself the right to issue reports on which countries are fulfilling the human-rights aspirations of their peoples. I surely would like to see a few passages on the abuses brought to us by the U.S. in Guantánamo.

Engagement is what the U.S. avoids in its failed Cuba policy. For Cuba everything is negotiable except its national sovereignty and its independence, the island’s right to determine which political and economic system is most desirable. Once true dialogue begins between the governments and Cubans and all Cubans residing abroad, a just reconciliation would be possible.

I have met with the Cuban government (including Fidel) on three different occasions to discuss ways to improve relations with all Cubans abroad, to decrease absurd regulations such as having to request a visa to return to the country of my birth with a Cuban passport, to discuss political prisoners and the need to respect dissidents, and to represent in Cuba the values of American democracy and liberal education. In 1993, the most difficult year of the special period, I was invited to read my poetry at the Casa de las Américas in La Habana. At the end of 2004, the most important publishing house in Cuba published an expanded edition of my book Poemas interreales.

U.S. news reporting on Cuba focuses relentlessly on dissidents. How many articles have we seen about the Cuban advances in medicine or about the nearly one million free cataract operations Cuban doctors have performed in Latin America? How many articles about the expanding Cuban economy?  What about all the spaces that have been conquered by Cuban critics on the island who speak out and refuse to accept oppressive policies? I could easily enumerate over one billion three hundred million reasons why the same treatment does not apply to China. … and indeed, the economic transformations that are currently taking place in Cuba are modeled somewhat after Viet Nam and China.

Q: What’s your take on the current presidential candidates and how they might approach Cuba if elected?

A: U.S. election years are not usually good for Cuba’s citizens. If you notice, both of the laws I mentioned earlier were passed in election years. Florida is almost always a swing state and the Cuban hardliners are coveted by the candidates. Bush proposes to turn the screw on Cuba until it surrenders; McCain looks to be more of the same. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are in favor of returning some rights to Cuban-Americans, allowing more travel and remittances to Cuba. If you look at the policies of the first Clinton White House, Hillary may be more willing to ease some restrictions. Obama is the real unknown whose ideals would best match a vision of the world that lets Cuba be Cuba. He has expressed willingness to talk to "enemies" of the United States, but when pressed on the issue of Cuba has trotted out the usual rhetoric about the need for political reforms before the two countries can reestablish a full relationship.

I can tell you that on my recent trip to Cuba there was a lot of excitement about the possibility of an Obama presidency. One friend said he might have to visit the United States and see "what this new country is like" should Obama be elected.  I certainly hope visas will again be available for Cubans to visit the U.S. without having to give up their political identity.

 

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Posted 4/10/2008 by Claudia Ginanni