“I’d like to say that we are in the best moment in the last fifty years between Cuba and the United States, and we don’t want to wait another fifty years,” Miguel Fraga told an audience at Myron Taylor Hall. “We believe that right now we can have normal relations. We believe it’s what the majority of the Cuban people want and what the majority of the American people want.”
Fraga is the first secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba in Washington, D.C. Assuming his post in July 2015, he became the first person to hold the position since the United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961. On September 27, he was at the Law School to deliver “A Look to U.S.-Cuban Relations, Past, Present, and Desired Future,” presented by the Berger International Speaker Series.
A main theme of Fraga’s presentation was correcting misconceptions about Cuba. He emphasized the country’s high international rankings in healthcare, literacy, sanitation, and other areas contributing to quality of life. He also cited Cuba’s major trade partners, its diplomatic relations with 191 countries, and the service and aid Cuban healthcare workers provide around the world.
Though the Obama administration re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba last year, the United States currently maintains its 1962 economic embargo on the country. Fraga quoted a 1961 State Department memorandum that articulates the goal of the sanctions as “…to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of the government.” He noted that the United Nations has condemned the embargo for twenty-four years and that last year President Obama asked Congress to lift it. So who, Fraga wondered aloud, is supporting this embargo? And why?
He also addressed the continued existence of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay, as well as the millions of dollars the U.S. Congress has allocated over the years to “democracy efforts” directed toward Cuba. He asserted, “In Cuba we believe that bilateral relations with the United States will be normal only when we exercise full sovereignty on all of our territory, when we are no longer under a sanctions regime, and when no specific programs are funded to alter our way of life.”
Fraga finished with a snapshot of recent developments between the United States and Cuba. Cruises and flights are resuming between the nations; two hotels run by U.S. companies have opened in Cuba; and the Cuban government has made agreements with major U.S. telecommunications companies. Meanwhile, bills on trade between the countries and on U.S. citizens’ freedom to travel to Cuba are pending in Congress.
Fraga’s presentation was followed by brief commentary from Muna Ndulo, professor of law and the Elizabeth and Arthur Reich Director of the Berger International Legal Studies Program; and by Gerald Torres, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law. Both spoke on the role of academia in transforming relations between Cuba and the United States. Ndulo observed, “It’s important to build programs that enhance relationships, because they will result in a deeper understanding of each other.” Afterward, Fraga, Ndulo, and Torres participated in a Q&A session with the audience, which included students from across the university. The discussion continued at a reception in the Student Commons.