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Hundreds of people gathered in Mackey Auditorium Wednesday for the controversial Conference on World Affairs panel discussion “Cuba Libre: Post Fidel.”
The panelists discussed past, present and future U.S. policy in Cuba, the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba and the plight of the Cuban people.
Panelists included Vicki Huddleston, an ex-U.S. ambassador to Cuba and a CU alumna, Judith Morrison, regional director for South America and the Caribbean at the Inter-American Foundation, and Antonio Sacre, an award-winning storyteller and performing artist (Harry Belafonte was scheduled to participate, but he reportedly injured his back and could not attend).
“Cuba is neither libre, nor is it post-Fidel,” Huddleston said. “Fidel will die, Raul will die and then policy will change. But then, maybe it won’t. Maybe someone else will have to die.”
Huddleston said that Cubans want change and that time is running out for U.S. policy in Cuba and for the Cuban Revolution.
Morrison spoke next, discussing the trade embargo and racial issues in Cuba. Since December 1999, 28 U.S. senators and governors from the heartland have visited Cuba in hopes to relax agricultural trade policy, Morrison said. She also spoke of the myth that Cuba has solved all of its racial issues.
Sacre, a “leprechano,” (half-Irish and half-Cuban) as he called himself, finished the panel discussion by telling stories about his Cuban family. Whenever Cubans came to his house, he said, they always had jokes from Cuba. One Cuban woman, however, was not joking when she spoke to him about U.S. politics.
“If you don’t like your decision in four years, you can change. Do you know how long we’ve wanted change?” he said she told him.
Despite dreams of going to Cuba, Sacre decided not to go because his father’s dream is to take him to Cuba once Fidel dies.
“I’ve been waiting 40 years to go to Cuba,” he said. “Maybe one day Fidel will die. Until then, I’ll just have to wait.”
This story, as well as other portions of the panel discussion, caused controversy and heated discussion in the question and answer portion of the event.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, a faulty member at the University of Denver, said he respected the dream of Sacre’s father, but that not all Cubans share this dream. He continued to criticize the panel, emulating Castro by waving his fist in the air with fire in his voice. He expressed regret that Belafonte was not there to share sentiments he would have agreed with more fully. After he spoke to the panel, much of the audience responded with applause.
Many other audience members shared Lopez-Levy’s opinion that the panel was unimpressive. One audience member was escorted back to his seat after he wouldn’t leave the microphone.
Criticisms of the panel included complaints that no Cubans from Cuba were on the panel, only one of the panelists had even been to Cuba and a complaint that the panelists seemed anti-Cuban.
“The popular opinion in the UK is that you need to see Cuba before the U.S. comes in,” said Noorie Parvez, a British member of the audience who had just been to Cuba on her honeymoon. The audience once again applauded as she said, “If I had one gun and one bullet, Fidel would not be the dictator I would take out.”