Dr. Gary Mounce
Dr. Gary Mounce

EDINBURG, RGV – A Modern Enlightenment is needed, especially about and for the Americas!

We at the University of Texas—Pan American (UTPA), Edinburg, Texas, are bringing enlightenment to our students and to the university community. We continue with this tradition Monday and Tuesday, December 1st and 2nd, 2014. Questions are welcomed. The public is invited—all gratis.

A major scholar is returning to the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Professor Arturo López Levy will be on the campus of UTPA. Times and places:

1. Monday: “Cuba in a Comparative Context,” 8:45 A.M., Social Science Building 115.

2. Monday: “Importance of a Trans-border Perspective,” 5:30 P.M., sponsored by College of Social and Behavioral Science Trans-border Initiative, ITT Building, International Room.

3. Tuesday: “Cuba in the U.S.-Latin American Relations Agenda,” 12:00 Noon, sponsored by the Office of International Studies, Student Union Auditorium.

Professor López holds a Masters in International Affairs, Columbia University. He earned a Masters in Economics, Carleton University, Ottawa. He is author of “Raúl Castro and the New Cuba: A Close-up View of Change.” The professor conducts graduate studies and teaches at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver. A man of many interests, he is a Research Associate at the Institute for the Study of Israel in the Middle East.

López is Professor of Latin American Politics, University of Colorado, Boulder, and Colorado School of Mines. He is a consultant for the New America Foundation and the Inter-American Dialogue about Cuba. In Cuba, López Levy was the Secretary of the B’nai-Brith Lodge of the Cuban Jewish Community.

Why do we need to know more about the Americas and about Cuba? The reasons are simple and important. Think of current immigration policies, needs and debates. Think of the phenomena of globalization. Think of economic links between U.S. policy toward Latin America and parallels with international policies elsewhere.

Think of short-term goals – ending the 55 year stand-off with Cuba, the need to unite families, the need to restore normal relations. To this civilized end, we should listen to the best informed scholars of international politics. Followers of the Guardian remember reading about much of this background. If not, let me repeat some of it before Professor López speaks:

Cuba was one of the last Latin American countries to receive independence from Spain (1898). What began, in effect, was a neo-colonial relationship with the U.S. The U.S. occupied Cuba militarily on three occasions. In 1906, the U.S. sent its “Army of Cuban Intervention.” Cuba’s own Provisional Governor was William H. Taft, later to become U.S. President. He tried to be PR smart (you judge if successful) and changed the name to “Army of Cuban Pacification.”

Long decades of one-sided economic dominance continued. Various regimes, aided and abetted by the U.S. Marines, ruled Cuba. The infamous Platt Amendment, forced on Cuba, made the U.S. Cuba’s arbiter for foreign policy. The coup de grace came (via H.S. Truman) with a military coup, planned in Miami (sound familiar?), recognizing Fulgencio Batista as President. He ruled as dictator, supported by the U.S., until overthrown by the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

Fifty-five difficult years have passed. It is time for change. Indeed, Cuba is changing. The Latin American politics literature sternly criticizes Cuba’s economic mistakes, its often wrongheaded human rights practices and its restricted democracy. But equally respected researchers extol the creative aspects of Cuban life, its vibrant music, film, ballet and culture. Leading academics praise Cuba’s educational efforts, sports’ programs, and, especially, its health and medical policies (Catherina Krull: “Cuba in a Global Context”). Cuba exports pharmaceuticals, doctors and nurses to the world. Results of their policies, confirmed by the World Health Organization, extend life expectancy and promote ethnic and social equality.

Economically, as reported before in the RGG, nations such as China and Brazil, especially, are “stepping into a space where the U.S. should be.” The U.S. “just watches” as reforms develop (Julia Sweig, Cuba: What Everyone Needs to Know, Elysium House, Waterford, Ireland, 2014). Time and the world pass us by. We can and should do better.

Hardline U.S. policy measures have “not substantially weakened the Cuban government” (Briana Lee, U.S.-Cuban Relations, Council of Foreign Relations, February 2014). Unfair economic sanctions and the untrue designation of Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism,” have made Cuba stronger. They have isolated the U.S. internationally.

What is useful and hopeful are other internal, economic changes in Cuba. Their government has implemented major globalization-style economic reforms. It has lifted travel restrictions. The U.S. has made few such moves, except for President Obama’s reduction of restrictions for Cuban families. His hands are tied by an intransigent Congress.

The reason? The “tail wags the dog.” Some right wing Cuban Americans prevent normal relations. This costs us business and profits. Cuban Americans, five percent of the population of Florida, have been a “pillar of Republican support” (Arturo López, Foreign Policy, 2012). But hope for change is on the horizon. Fifty to sixty percent of all Americans want “travel, trade, and diplomacy” with Cuba (López). Fifty percent of younger Cubans voted for President Obama.

Now, any policy which may assist in the growth of more democracy and diversity in Cuba and more flexibility in U.S. policy is welcome. (UTPA Political Science Graduate, Rolf Otto Niederstrasser, “The Invisible Boundary: President Obama’s Cuban Policy,” 2014). Is more change an unreasonable expectation? I am optimistic. Perhaps Professor López (Cuban yet a citizen of the world) will be more cynical. Come, listen and find out.

Meanwhile, the mutual benefit of normal diplomatic relations between our two sister countries, so close, but yet so far—the U.S. and Cuba—await us. Such a Modern Enlightenment would help change the world. Our university – past, present and future – will help enlighten, change and improve security, health and fairness in the Americas and the world.