If you were among the capacity crowd of over 120 members and guests attending the December meeting at the Old Lyme Country Club, you know you were in the presence of a speaker with a deep and personal understanding of Cuba-US relations. Rob Hernandez took us through over 400 years of Cuban history, in part of which his own family featured, with some beautiful photos (as one would expect from a former National Geographic executive!) and informational graphics, ending with his take on how we should solve our 60-year old dysfunctional relations with the island nation – essentially, “get over” the past, and move on!
Rob did not pull any punches in assigning blame for the economic situation in Cuba: it is primarily the fault of failed policies and mismanagement of resources by the Cuban government. Rob recounted his meeting with Fidel Castro, in which El Commandante questioned him closely on life in the US … basically, because Castro was poorly informed about his nemesis. While Castro publicly acknowledged that the revolution in 1959 was always a socialist/nationalist one, one wonders if US policymakers might have done more to steer him away from Moscow’s influence, instead of pursuing regime-change with the Bay of Pigs debacle. Interestingly, a similar argument has been promulgated with respect to our response to Ho Chi Minh’s nationalist efforts to throw off the yoke of French imperialism in the 1950s and establish a united Vietnam in the early ‘60s.
Rob’s presentation generated robust Q&A sessions after his talk and at the subsequent dinner. Perhaps the most poignant remark came from an audience member who commented that a final resolution of the situation will likely be achieved only when those who suffered as a result of the Cuban revolution have passed, and the next phase in the evolution of the island, and its relations with its big neighbor to the north, is in the hands of a new generation looking to the future.
For our next meeting, we hope to see you on January 28 at Crozier Williams Student Center Building, Connecticut College, New London, when Connecticut College professor Caroleen Sayej will speak to her new book Patriotic Ayatollahs: Nationalism in Post-Saddam Iraq.
Executive Director & Program Committee Chair
Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council
The mission of the Southeast Connecticut World Affairs Council (SECWAC) is to foster an understanding of issues of foreign policy and international affairs by study, debate, and educational programming, primarily through a Speakers Series of 8 to 10 monthly meetings.