As Charlie Crist calls on lifting Cuba embargo, not all Cuban-Americans agree

02/14/14 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: Cuba, Cuban-American, trade embargo, Charlie Crist, Bill Nelson

Last week, former Governor Charlie Crist, who is running to get his old job back, announced he supports lifting the half-century trade embargo against Cuba. Many Cuban-Americans support his stance, but opinions vary. During a lecture at Eckerd College Wednesday night, Patsy Feliciano, director of diversity and inclusion at USF said she thinks the embargo should stand.

“I don’t believe that lifting the embargo is going to change a thing in Cuba. In fact, I don’t see there is an embargo. Cuba is able to trade with every other country in the world and it does and that has not changed the situation for Cubans in Cuba.”

Feliciano was part of a Cuban-American panel discussing the future of relations in Cuba as well as what drove them out of the island nation. Also on the panel was USF professor Carlos Cano. He disagreed with his colleague’s assertion that lifting the embargo wouldn’t improve Cuban lives.

“I mean, if you keep doing something and you get no results year after year, does it take a century to figure out that it doesn’t work?”

Cano instead thinks the blockade on trading with Cuba is making things worse for Cubans living under the Castro dictatorship.

“The regime has used the embargo to blame all of its failures on the embargo.”

Also at issue is whether or not the U.S. should loosen it’s restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba. Currently, Cuban-Americans can make trips to and from the island nation, but others can only do so for things like educational trips. Cano thinks that if more Americans were able to visit the country, Cubans may be inspired to improve their situations by realizing the differences between western democracy and the oppressive Castro regime.

“But, just being there and talking about your life in the United States, it’s, again, the light shining on the problem over there.”

USF’s director of diversity and inclusion, Feliciano, claims most Cubans are living in a state of complacency with restrictions on freedom of speech and other basic rights afforded to Americans. She said she’s losing hope that the situation will ever really change.

“I’ve been optimistic for thirty-some years of my life and it just hasn’t happened. I’d like to say that the work that these younger people that are now the dissidents that we hear about are going to pay off, but quite frankly I think it’s going to take much more than that.”

Feliciano says she grew hopeful during the Arab Spring when resistance uprisings overthrew oppressive leaders in the Middle East. She thinks that kind of movement, combined with efforts by the international community are what Cubans need to improve their conditions.

“I realize it’s easier to say that from here than it is from there. They’re the ones that would have to risk their lives, but I think it’s going to take a combination. I don’t think peaceful conversations are going to get Cuba there. I think it’s going to be a combination of things.”

During a stop at the University of Florida this week, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, told students he supports loosening travel restrictions for Americans wanting to visit Cuba.

“But it’s not the time to unilaterally go in and lift the embargo until we see some iron clad guarantees that freedom speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly is being allowed inside Cuba by the police state that is still run by the Castro brothers.”

The trade embargo against Cuba has been in place since 1960. Direct flights from Tampa to Cuba took off for the first time in 50 years in 2011.

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