Cuba Experts to Hold Symposium at Santa Monica Library
By Jason Islas, Staff Writer — Santa Monica Lookout
March 28, 2013 — Wayne Smith, who served as unofficial ambassador to Cuba under President Jimmy Carter and is currently the director of the Cuba Program and Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy, will join six other experts on Cuban culture and politics to discuss the future of the Communist island nation at the Santa Monica Public Library. The Cuba Symposium, which will also feature a talk by journalist Ann Louise Bardach, author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington, will seek to answer the questions about the impact President Barack Obama’s second term might have on with U.S. relations with Cuba which have thawed little since the end of the Cold War.
“We’ll be talking about art, but mainly we’ll be talking about is the nature of the relationship between Cuba and the U.S. and what can happen in Obama’s second administration,” said Adolofo Nodal, a Cuban-born American who was general manager of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs from 1988 to 2001. “There are major changes afoot,” said Nodal, who is also the chief operating officer of Cuba Tours and Travel. He was referring to the February 24 announcement by Raul Castro — Fidel’s brother — that he would step down in 2018, which Nodal and other observers of Cuba saw as a sign of liberalization in the Communist nation.
Former National Geographic editor and long-time Cuba watcher, Elizabeth Newhouse, agrees. “They are trying to open up in little ways,” said Newhouse, who will also be speaking at the April 11 symposium. “It would be very helpful in moving that process forward if we engage with them.”
Bardach, who has been writing about Cuban politics for nearly 20 years starting with a 1994 interview with Fidel Castro for Vanity Fair, said, “I think Raul Castro realizes that the only way to save their bacon is to change.” She will offer an up-to-date political analysis of the current situation in Cuba at the Symposium. “There’s no getting around it, it’s a totalitarian dictatorship,” she said. Due to restrictions enforced by the government, “Cuba has the lowest level of Internet usage in the hemisphere.” And the embargo, which was codified into law as the Cuban Democracy Act in 1992, hasn’t helped Cubans’ access to information, even giving the Cuban government a convenient scapegoat for when Socialist policies fail, Bardach said.
Nodal, Newhouse and Smith are advocates of lifting the embargo placed on Cuba in 1960 and for loosening restriction on travel to the island nation. Though lifting the embargo is likely a distant possibility, some are hopeful that Obama’s second term could lead to looser travel restrictions. “Travel is another step toward a better understanding between two countries,” said Nodal, who sees travel as an opportunity for Americans and Cubans to get to know each other in a capacity other than as enemies. Newhouse said that under President Bill Clinton, travel was opened somewhat, but after the Bush Administration placed Cuba on a list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, restrictions were once again tightened.
Obama has since tried to reverse some of those policies. “In his first term, he opened up travel to Cuban Americans,” Newhouse said. “A year later, he re-instituted the People to People travel.” The nonprofit People to People International was founded by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956 as a grass-roots diplomacy program “dedicated to enhancing cross-cultural communication within and across communities and nations,” according to its site.
As Cuba continues to change, Nodal and other observers hope that the future will bring greater ties with the island nation. “We really just want to get Americans and Cubans to meet,” said Nodal, adding that he hopes people come away from the April 11 Symposium “with an understanding of what the reality is in Cuba,” which he noted from his trip there a week ago, was optimistic.
The Symposium, which was organized by Nodal, runs from 6:15 to 9 p.m. in the Main Library’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Auditorium. Registration is required and those interested in attending should send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.