César A. Salgado
Why is Cuba so special? (I’m quoting here—with a twist–the title of a New York Times opinion piece about the U.S. “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban immigrants published yesterday.) Since the Spanish American War of 1898 but especially after the triumph of Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959, the question of Cuba has generated fierce debates and even deadly confrontations in the United States and in the world at large. Lines have been drawn and trenches have been dug over Cuba on the arenas of Cold War and post-Soviet conflict in the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia since the 1960 start of the U.S. embargo, the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. In the United States the disputes over this question—why and how should Cuba remain special–have led to the arrival of several waves of exiles and immigrants that have transformed the ethnic, cultural, social, and racial fabric as well as the electoral tendencies of communities in Florida, New York, New Jersey, and, yes, the great state of Texas (perhaps not demographically but certainly politically—or, shall we say, senatorially). Some argue that this question has over-influenced the outcome of some presidential elections.
The question of Cuba’s exceptionality again excited a great deal of media speculation after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early nineties. How long would Cuba’s communist regime last? Could we all meet again next year in Havana? The almost miraculous sustainability of Cuba’s socialist gamble throughout the harrowing economic privations of its Special Period in Times of Peace has transformed those questions into a discussion about the pragmatics of gerontocratic rule and the limits of resuscitation. How special can Cuba remain after the passing of Fidel’s and Raúl’s generation of revolutionaries?
The announcement of the normalization of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in December 17 has again unleashed a great frenzy of speculation in world media regarding what Cuba would be like if the U.S. embargo is finally lifted. Will the Cuban Adjustment Law be rescinded? How will the new Republican U.S. Congress respond to Obama’s “diplomatic” challenge? How much of Obama’s three billion shot-in-the-arm of the Cuban economy will benefit el cubano de a pie over the regime official? What will these new circumstances mean for the Afro-descendant inhabitants in the island, clearly the worst off under the current “Special Period” conditions? The question of Cuba has now gone supernova, exploding throughout the blogosphere and spreading everywhere like a nasty computer virus. In response to this media overload, instead of a panel of policy experts, we have decided to invite colleagues who both analyze and suffer witness to Cuba, gente cubana de Texas que siguen cargando por acá el peso de su isla.
You will have the opportunity to see the faces and hear the voices of a sector of the Cuban population that bears the brunt of the issues at stake here, artists and academics working on Cuban topics who are also “life experts” representing the full spectrum of their diaspora through the state. We have asked them to come together in a round table to speak out their views, hopes, and reservations and help us generate useful questions for a consequential, long term conversation about Cuba’s future.
 Ann Louise Bardach, “Why Are Cubans So Special?” New York Times, Jan. 29, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/30/opinion/why-are-cubans-so-special.html?_r=1
You can watch here the video of the Roundtable Imagining Cuba in a Post-Embargo Era: Ideas from the Cuban Diaspora in Texas. This event took place on Friday, January 30, 2015 at LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections.
César A. Salgado
Department of Spanish and Portuguese, College of Liberal Arts
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.