Under President Barack Obama, U.S. relations with Cuba saw a considerable warm-up, including new airline flights between Tampa and Havana. But now, with the election of Donald Trump as President, some wonder how the relationship between the two countries might change.
USF Sarasota-Manatee recently marked International Education Week with a panel discussion on Cuba, its future, and how the two sides might get along moving forward.
The USF Sarasota-Manatee Global Engagement Office had been planning the event since March. But the focus had to be adjusted a week before the event when Trump won the presidential election.
“President Obama is associated with Cuba opening. Part of what I wanted to show is that it actually precedes President Obama, this concept is bigger than just the past eight years,” panel moderator, USFSM associate professor of history Dr. Jonathan Perry said. "I think seeing the historical dimensions of people-to-people relationships, economic goals, things that transcend politics, and so having chosen that focus, I think we were able to stick to that concept pretty effectively.”
Panelists focused on a trio of issues: the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, Cuban arts and literature and business and tourism possibilities.
Dr. Harry E. Vanden examined the historic ties between the two countries, particularly focusing on Tampa’s role.
“We have a great many ties, Jose Marti was even here, part of the Cuban Revolution of 1895 was organized from Tampa, supported by cigar workers,” the professor of Latin American studies and political science at USF’s Tampa campus said.
While some conservatives might push Trump to break relations President Obama established with Cuba, Vanden noted that Trump may instead focus more on the economic possibilities.
“He is a businessman, will talk to other businesspeople, will talk to the United States Chamber of Commerce and will see that there are tremendous economic opportunities for him and for American business in Cuba and for companies like his and he might want to encourage that, so that’s another possibility," Vanden said.
Johannes Werner agrees.
The editor of the Miami-based online business news site Cuba Standard thinks while removing trade barriers with the U.S. could greatly improve Cuba’s economic strength, opening the country up further could also be a boon for a number of American industries.
‘On the U.S. side, Cuba is fairly small, but interest has been piqued by the tourism-related industries, you have large cruise corporations, hotel companies and the airlines that are very interested and actually already have a small stake in the Cuban market,” Werner said.
At the moment, he’s not exactly sure what a Trump presidency means for relations with Cuba, but he believes the Cuban people are looking at the change with optimism.
“Essentially what they hope is that the status quo will be maintained," Werner said. "In other words, the small openings that were created by the Obama administration should continue, might continue from the Cuban’s perspective, that’s at least what they hope at this point.”
Werner also points to February 2018 as a greater potential turning point. That’s when Raul Castro is expected to end his last term as Cuban president.
“This is going to create a moment of transition that Cuba is already preparing for right now and it is opening a moment of opportunity to change policy in Washington as well,” Werner said.
For one panelist, the issue was less fiscal and more emotional.
Dr. Madeline Camara was born in Cuba and taught at the University of Havana before coming to the U.S. twenty-four years ago.
The USF Tampa professor of Latin American literature pointed out that arts and literature need to be considered alongside things like business when Americans look at other countries.
“What I don’t like to see is the subordination (of arts and literature), like this come later, ‘let’s go and travel to Cuba, make business and, well, we can get informed about literature,’" she said.
"No, you have to previously know who’s Cuba. Cuba is that island that is still a promise, so you have to reach for that.”
Even though she sometimes goes years without speaking to her family still in Cuba, Camara thinks the situation there will eventually change.
“We need to hear the dissident voices that don’t want to continue in a communist country with only one party. So that being said, yes, there’s room for optimism," she said.
And due to continuing restrictions, Camara is not allowed to go back to her native land without an expensive visa that she refuses to buy.
“I’m a Cuban citizen, I will come back to my country when I just get on a plane and be there, so I’m waiting for that day. I (have) waited more than 20 years, so it doesn’t really make it change, really, with more (time)," Camara said, laughing.
To see video of the conference from the last half hour episode of University Beat on WUSF TV, click here.