University professors talk U.S., Cuban diplomatic relationship

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Silvia Pedraza, professor of sociology and american culture, speaks on re-establishing relations between Cuba and the US in the Ford School of Public Policy Wednesday. Buy this photo

By Kristen Anderson, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 4, 2015

With the White House beginning to thaw relations with Cuba, three University professors gathered Wednesday to discuss the developing diplomatic relationship.

In an event titled “Re-establishing U.S.-Cuba Relations: Walking the Tightrope for Success,” a panel of University scholars discussed a variety of issues revolving around the challenges and implications of the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Last month, President Barack Obama announced he would order the start of full diplomatic relations with Cuba, including a push to end a trade embargo between the two countries. The announcement signaled an ending to a decades-long period of no formal relationship between the two countries.

The program, held at the Ford School, was organized by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and co-sponsored Michigan News, the Ford School of Public Policy’s International Policy Center and the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

The panelists included Anthropology Prof. Ruth Behar; Silvia Pedraza, sociology and American culture professor; and Public Policy Prof. Melvyn Levitsky, the former U.S. ambassador to Brazil.

Pedraza highlighted the ambitions both countries brought to the negotiation process, which included immigration and travel policies; U.S. possession of Guantanamo Bay; the trade embargo levied by the U.S against Cuba and access to telecommunications for Cubans.

She said she believed the United States and Cuba would come to agreement on a number of those concerns, but that some issues would remain points of contention.

Levitsky said because more than 160 countries currently have relations with Cuba, in general, having a diplomatic relationship with the country is no longer viewed as exceptional.

He added that he thinks formal relations with the country have an impact on relationships beyond the government itself.

“It’s important to have diplomatic relations so that you can have a dialogue with the government even if it’s an unfriendly relationship,” Levitsky said. “An establishment of relations does not suddenly mean we’re going to become friends with the Cuban government. But it may, in fact, allow us to become more friendly and closer up with the Cuban population.”

LSA senior Marianna Yamamoto, who attended the panel, said she thought the three different perspectives on the panel provided a well-rounded balance of expertise across subject areas.

“This is something that’s happening now,” she said. “It’s really going to affect our future and we have a lot to look forward to, I guess, and see how this plays out, and I think we can all learn a lot from the situation.”

Lenny Ureña Valerio, program manager at the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, said she anticipated more events on U.S.-Cuban relations in the future.

“We hope to keep organizing events not only on U.S.-Cuba relations, but also on Cuba's own historical, cultural and political relations to other Latin American countries,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “I think that the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the U.S. is an excellent moment to reassess Cuba’s influence in Latin America and the Caribbean.”