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US-Cuba relations at turning point

[Esteban Morales and Karen Dubinsky]
Esteban Morales Dominguez, a professor from the University of Havana, visited Queen’s University as part of an exchange program. Karen Dubinsky is one of the professors involved in the course, DEVS 305 – Cuban Culture and Society, that plays a central role in the exchange. (University Communications)
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While the road to normalization of ties between the United States and Cuba will be long and complicated, the fact that the process has started is a positive development for both countries says a leading expert in US-Cuba relations.

Esteban Morales Dominguez, a professor from the University of Havana, visited Queen’s University recently as part of an annual exchange between the two schools. The focus of his studies is race relations within Cuba and international relations, particularly US-Cuba relations.

Following 18 months of secret negotiations, President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, that their governments are working toward normalizing relations, bringing an end to 55 years of confrontation and embargo.

While Dr. Morales points out there remains a lot of work to be done, he believes that both countries will benefit from a return to normal relations.

“I think the two countries cannot stop the possibility of this opportunity to resume relations. (After) 55 years this really can be very good, not only for Cuba but also for the people of the United States,” he says. “But we think the necessity of the process of normalization is not only a necessity for Cuba but for the US as well, because the US lost, during all this time, (many opportunities for) commerce with Cuba, many possibilities for investment with Cuba. Cuba has many things to give to the United States and I think the interchange between Cuba and the United States can be very good for the two countries.”

Dr. Morales says the first step on this road will be the reopening of embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C., a process that is already well underway.

The steps that follow won’t be so easy, however.

Dr. Morales says that for Cuba there are a number of major obstacles that need to be resolved, first and foremost of which is the economic embargo of the island country. Throughout his two terms, President Obama has shown a willingness to ease some of the economic restrictions, but the ultimate decision on the blockade lies with Congress. That, Dr. Morales says, makes it more difficult as both the Democrats and Republicans have powerful groups that oppose easing the embargo.

Other important issues for Cuba is its inclusion on a list of terrorist countries, restrictive immigration policies and the continuing US control of Guantanamo Bay.

Difficult issues, certainly, but not impossible to resolve, he says.

Hope, however, lies in the long shared history of the countries. Separated by a mere 90 miles, Cuba and the United States are intrinsically linked, whether in conflict or friendship. That’s part of the reason the American efforts to isolate the country didn’t work.

“I think there is a very important connection. When the policy of the United States was to isolate Cuba it resulted in the isolation of the United States,” Dr. Morales says. “At the same time really the United States could not isolate Cuba. Not only internationally but also inside the United States there was a very big impact, a very big influence of Cuba. (Over) the years the Cuban-American community became, from the beginning very aggressive, to today where it has many connections with Cuba. There are many families in both countries as well.”

Despite the complexities, Dr. Morales has hope for the future and sees many mutually beneficial opportunities including tourism, investment, and collaboration in areas such as medicine and science.

Dr. Morales’ visit was sponsored by the Principal’s Development Fund. The Queen’s University-University of Havana Exchange was initiated in 2008. Each year, 30 students travel to Cuba as part of the DEVS 305 Cuban Society and Culture course and a visiting scholar from the University of Havana is brought to Queen’s to give lectures and aid the learning expereience.