Since 1959, Cuba has had few new cars and the United States has had few good cigars.

Global Studies 124 students listened Wednesday night to Sergio Martinez, Secretary of Cuban Interests in the United States, discuss Cuba and its relationship with America. Originally, Professor Mark Jurgensmeyer asked Cuban Ambassador to the United Nations, Fernando Remirez, to speak, but Remirez was unable to attend. Martinez works with the UN regarding Cuban relations with the U.S.

Those relations have been severely strained since 1959, when Fidel Castro assumed power. Castro, a communist, overthrew pro-American dictator Fulgencio Batista, seized U.S. property, instituted sweeping communist reforms and allied himself with the Soviet Union.

In 1961, America backed Cuban exiles in an unsuccessful effort to reclaim the island, known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The next year, U.S. leaders learned that the USSR was moving missiles onto the island, which is just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. The standoff that followed, between President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev, is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.[DN1]

The United States has kept a trade embargo against Cuba since 1960, which Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage told the Journal of Commerce cost his country $800 million in 1998.

Martinez talked about economic and social changes that the Cuban government continues to make despite and because of the U.S. embargo.

“Cuba is a small country in the Caribbean with 11 million people,” he said. “We are taking important steps at becoming an active country, but there are still a lot of hardships that the Cuban population faces and difficult situations.”

He also discussed how the Cuban people feel about the embargo: “The embargo makes hardships for the people of Cuba. You cannot find anyone in Cuba who agrees with the embargo. It affects everybody – it is an issue for all 11 million people.”

The U.S. is the only nation in the world with a trade embargo on Cuba. In 1992, Congress voted to increase the blockade by prohibiting foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. In 1996, Congress passed legislation allowing American citizens to sue foreign investors who use American property taken by the Cuban government.

Martinez said Cuba is ready to try for a better relationship with the U.S. and to become a more active member of the international community. He said it is in the best interest of both countries to develop a stable and friendly relationship, especially for the younger generations of both countries.

Professor Jurgensmeyer said inviting a member of the Cuban government helped the students understand Cuba in context with what they are learning. “This class focuses on four different areas of international tension and conflict, one of these areas is Cuba,” he said.

Rowena Lambert, a junior political science and sociology major, said the talk brought home ideas that she was learning in the class.

“It was interesting to learn more about Cuba and the embargo,” she said. “We have been talking a lot about conflicts around the world. … This lecture is relevant in light of the U.S. rethinking its role in Cuba and foreign policy around the world.”