WCU professor Erminio Braidotti discussed Latin American human rights on Wednesday, March 5 as part of the bi-weekly Ethnic Studies seminar series to a group of students and faculty. Having just 50 minutes to work with, Braidotti highlighted several Latin American countries, such as Argentina and Guatemala, and their past and present struggles with conflict and human rights. He then welcomed questions from members of the audience, several of whom inquired about the condition of Cuba after Fidel Castro’s resignation last month.
“The U.S. government complains so much about Cuba and squeezes the people with embargos but there are far worse people around,” Braidotti said, referencing Parade magazine’s annual “Top Ten Dictators” list and how Fidel Castro progressively did not make the list over the years as less and less was heard from Cuba on the world stage.
Braidotti discussed the concept that it is still an anti-communist ideology that fuels the embargo policy towards Cuba. Other dictatorships or once-communist countries, such as China with its increasingly capitalist leanings, have been traded with and dealt with by the United States; an embargo has existed on trade with Cuba since 1962.
While “free trade” is an experiment that has begun between the United States and other Latin American countries, Cuba is still excluded.
“Free trade works in other countries, I guess,” Braidotti said skeptically.
Despite Fidel’s resignation, his brother Raúl has taken his place, keeping policy in the family, leaving some possibility for change but rejecting the possibility of a political reversal in Cuba.
“Any change that may take place will be gradual; neither Raúl nor the Communist leadership will want to cause Fidel a heart-attack now in his last days. In other words, they’ll let him die with the illusion that the revolution succeeded and is still going strong,” Braidotti said. Then they will start implementing gradual changes, which they recognize are necessary and urgent, both politically and economically.”
There are 1.2 million Cuban-Americans living in Florida, making them a part of the electorate worth considering to campaigning politicians in that state, and therefore causing the candidates to take sides on the Cuban situation.
“Obama’s response is the appropriate one: let’s sit down, talk, and move ahead in a new direction. Hillary Clinton’s answer is more guarded and tentative, but much better than the present administration’s, which is totally out of touch with reality,” Braidotti said.
Strangely enough, many Cuban-Americans support the embargo of their home country even though it has caused most of the people to live in poverty for the past 46 years.
“The older generation supports the embargo to a certain extent, because they want to see Fidel gone,” Braidotti said. The Bush administration, however, intensified restrictions on Cuban-Americans, revoking travel to the island and denying them the ability to send money to their relatives still living at home, causing discontent among them here in the United States.
Braidotti believes that a benevolent policy towards Cuba would win over the people and improve international relations, despite the communist government. Economic improvements in Cuba are foremost in this relationship and the political aspect would follow naturally if trade were permitted.
“We are on ‘friendly terms,’ both politically and economically, with other communist governments, so I am sure that a benevolent and supportive policy toward Cuba would result in improved relations advantageous to both countries,” Braidotti said.
Braidotti discussed how 40 to 50 percent of Latin American people live on just one dollar a day. Much of Latin America’s exports are foods or agrarian in nature, harvested solely for the purpose of exporting and selling to foreign countries. With all resources spent on exporting, however, these countries are forced to import food for their own consumption and survival, almost negating profits made from exports, according to Braidotti.
Countries once run by dictators turned to democracy at different times in the 20th century, but a trend of former generals taking power has taken place in recent years, such as Ortega in Nicaragua.
“They say that they gave a chance to democracy and it didn’t benefit them so now they are going the other way,” Braidotti said.
The audience flooded Braidotti with questions, mainly about United States relations with various Latin American countries. With many topics addressed, the seminar could have easily been an all-day event. Braidotti expressed opinions and referenced official accounts throughout the seminar about political upheavals and tumultuous economics throughout Latin America.
“I probably don’t know the whole story either,” Braidotti said.
Shane Madden is a fouth-year student majoring in history with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at SM590676@wcupa.edu.