Cuba Speaks For Itself | The American Word

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Cuba Speaks For Itself

Camila DeChalus | 11/13/15 1:47pm
| Updated 11/13/15 1:47pm

Camila DeChalus /

Cliff Smith stood in front of the crowd wearing a small Cuban flag pinned to the middle of his hat. His tall stature and long silver-streaked hair commanded the attention of the crowd as he spoke of his reverence towards the Cuban Revolution and the impact it made on Latin America. The 63-year-old self-proclaimed expert on Cuba said that he relentlessly followed U.S. and Cuba relations since he was a teenager. Smith spent more than 10 years working as a former U.S. government officer in the Iranian Embassy. During his time at the embassy, he gained access to transcribed speeches by Fidel Castro and became heavily involved in U.S. foreign affairs with Cuba. Later that year, he explained how he started to become more outspoken and was not surprised when he was not selected to be head of publicity. He was soon fired from his job and immediately went back to the United States to pursue a life of social justice and peaceful activism.

“I gave up being a political officer to become a hard core hippie,” Smith said with a toothless grin. When asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I was fired because they thought I was too radical, but I became the most radical when I started to work for the State Department. That is when I learned about Castro Fidel and was able to read direct transcripts of his speeches.”

More than 60 people who shared Smith’s admiration for Cuba and its new political

relations with the United States attended the Cuba Speaks for Itself event at the David. A Clarke School of Law located in the Van Ness neighborhood. The majority of the people who attended were middle-aged and active members of the justice and law department at the University of the District of Columbia.

The national Network on Cuba and the D.C. Metro Coalition in Solidarity with the Cuban Revolution sponsored the event, which featured Kenia Serrano Puig, the President of the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP).

Kenia Serrano Puig’s organization has a network that extends to 133 countries and hosts about 70 organizational trip visits to Cuba every year. The organization aims to bridge the two companies.

Many people at the event feared that Cuba opening up their private sector and expanding the business and tourism industry might provide too much room for capitalist-motivated countries like the United States to try to take over and dominate the sectors.

August 15 of this year marked the day that the U.S. flag rose in front of the new U.S. embassy in Havana.

“It was a long process, but after 50 years, we finally gotten to this point,” Puig said. “We will continue to welcome Americans and we will support President Obama’s decisions.

Last October marked the 23rd time the United Nations pleaded for the United States to uplift the U.S. embargo on Cuba. 188 countries out of 193 voted in favor of uplifting the U.S. embargo, other countries abstained, while the United States and Israel remained obstinate on their previous decision.

“One of the biggest problems my organization faces today is educating Americans and international actors that although Cuba and U.S. opened diplomatic relations, the blockade is still imposed on Cuba,” Puig said.

The blockade impedes Cuba from trading and conducting business with foreign companies because the companies fear that the United States will impose sanctions against them for conducting business with Cuba. The embargo not only hurts Cuba’s economy, but it also hurts the people within the country. Due to the embargo, Cubans are denied access to technology, medicine, affordable food, and other resources that could be available to them if the United States lifted the embargo.

The asymmetrical power relationship between Cuba and the United States has made it an arduous task for the Cuban government to compromise with the U.S. on their terms. For instance, the Cuban government has repeatedly asked that the U.S. government return the territory known as “Guantánamo” back to Cuba.

According to the United Nations Educational Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO), Cuba has been widely supported for its active role in integrating their literacy programs in Bolivia where the literacy rate is 96.2 percent countrywide. However, although the sanctions imposed on Cuba have caused Cubans to experience some limitations, they still have the best education and healthcare systems in the world.

Attendees came to the event to show their support and voice their concerns about the existing problems within the United States such as police brutality and gun violence. The event aimed to open and cultivate a fruitful dialogue in the ways the two countries can work together and form solidarity to support justice for federal and state injustices. However, Puig makes one thing clear: “We are interested in updating socialism. We are not interested in going back to capitalism,” she said. “Latin America is no longer in the United States ‘back year,’ we are now our own independent countries.”

Leslie Salgado, an engineer by day and justice activist by night, thought the event was very insightful and incredible. She stood in front of the room during the last few minutes of the event to express her gratitude and appreciation for all the things Cuba has done for the other Latin American countries.

“Cuba is my inspiration because it is this little island that dared to take their fate into their own hands and fulfill their own destiny.” She paused as her eyes started to water and her voice began to crack. “I believe Cuba is Cuba and it is up to the Cubans to resolve their own problems, not for the U.S to decide.”