FIU conference focuses on race in Cuba

Cuba's political future, the impact of renewed relations between the United States and Cuba and its new policies towards the island, were the focus of some of the discussions held on the first day of the 10th annual Conference of Cuban and Cuban American Studies in Florida International University.

A panel, which made up by FIU experts discussing the consequences of the December 17th announcement in regards to diplomatic and financial relations between the U.S and Cuba, seemed to generate great interest.

Professor Marifeli Perez-Stable's opening statement was: "Cuba is a dictatorship." She focused on criticizing what she considers the "weaknesses" of the Cuban government. Among them she mentioned its "arrogance of power" and the fact that "Cuban leaders really don't know what the people think, its ideology is more repressive and less inclusive as time goes on, and that's a terrible weakness."

She added: "Human rights can't have a 'but' in front of them, they don't belong to any government, you either respect them or plaster them."

Perez-Stable, who is also the sociologist of FIU's Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies, highlighted the varying opinions within the Cuban opposition in regards to the restoration of relations with the U.S. but warned that national politics shouldn't interfere with these.

Dario Moreno centered on analyzing the impact of Barack Obama's announcement and what it meant for Florida election politics. According to Moreno, the President has benefited from the Hispanic non-Cuban vote and "the idea is that any vote that he loses because of his policy towards Cuba, can be won within other Hispanic groups, because of the topic of immigration."

Moreno noted that this was only "a bet".

Professor Marcos A. Kernel, on the other hand, assured that from a banker's point of view, "we won't see big changes until the embargo is lifted" and that the measures announced make some transactions easier to make but others are still observed.

"I don't think that the banks are going to create credit lines to provide them to Cuba so easily," said Kernel.

Frank Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center at FIU, formed part of Obama's cabinet during his first term. He said that "some people overestimate the role that the Vatican played in the negotiations" which ran for 18 months.

According to Mora, the Vatican communicated with each side to promote dialogue, but aside from that "didn't do much else."

He pinpointed Canada as having more of a protagonist role, hosting several secret meetings, although he said that he considers negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba took place "without much external influence."

In that panel as well as in another about ideology and reform in the era of Raul Castro, philosopher and guest FIU professor, Alexis Jardines, touched upon Cuba's financial motivations which are behind its negotiations with its historic enemy. He noted that lifting the embargo "would be the oh think that could save the country from collapsing."

Jardines things that the present government will resist the empowerment if civic society and will attempt to "kidnap" this space and replace it with "the organization of the masses" in the country. However, he doesn't discard the "foreseeable construction of a fake opposition" or even "bipartisanship among the loyals."

He also affirmed that "the potential to contest lies with the people, not the opposition, the upstanding and middle class Cuban and those people are more capitalist then internal dissidence."

However, Sebastian Arcos mentioned that small business owners who operate on their own account have been extremely careful to not make any political statement and referred to a list of "cosmetic reforms" created to make the Cuban government appear as being "more tolerant". An example of this is Mariela Castro's work with transvestites and transsexuals.

Arcos insisted that economic pressure being experienced by the current government "has been left with no one to support it" and said that "we're the ones running out of time, we're the ones who want to recuperate our country."

The new voting law recently announced in Cuba's official press outlets was also discussed although details are presently unknown. Several panelists speculated that it could lead to an increased popularity within the Communist Party of Cuba or the possibility of a bipartisanship in which critical sectors could be defined as "loyal".

In the event's main session, organized by the Institute of Cuban Studies, several investigations about the issue of race in the island were presented.

Ada Ferrer, Historian at the University of New York, proposed a rereading of Jose Antonio Aponte - a man condemned to be hung for leading an abolitionist rebellion at the start of the 19th century. At the same time, Alejandro de la Fuente, a professor at Harvard University, analyzed the contributions of the Antillano Group and delved into how forgotten it is in Cuba's cultural history.

Andrea Queely and Danielle Clealand, both professors at FIU, presented some conclusions about their investigative efforts in Cuba about racial prejudice and negro consciousness respectively.

Other panels involving similar topics included the development of the racial problem since the time of civil rights movement in Cuba, social integration, national identity, literature, cinema and dance, among others.

The conference concluded for the day with a welcome reception offered by FIU president, Mark Rosenberg, in which he paid homage to Cuban Academic Carmelo Mesa Lago.

The conference will continue to run until Saturday.