A Cuban diplomat urges U.S. to rediscover our neighbor

Although the United States has missed many opportunities, it has many future opportunities ahead for relations with Cuba, according to Miguel Fraga, the first secretary of the Cuban Embassy. Fraga spoke in the Procrastinator Theater Tuesday, Feb. 21.

Fraga asked a series of questions, beginning with, “What do you know about Cuba?”

After sharing his presentation at 22 institutions, Fraga has concluded that “the reality is that people don’t have enough information about Cuba.”

Using statistics from The World Bank, he joked, “[this] is not Cuban propaganda. And, if you don’t believe me, go to Cuba.” Fraga began debunking the myths and negative perceptions of Cuba. He explained that Cuba has a higher life expectancy, lower infant mortality rate and more than three times the doctors per 1,000 people than the United States. According to World Bank, the United States has 2.5 physicians per 1,000 people while Cuba has 6.7.

“For that reason, we have doctors almost everywhere,” Fraga said. “We have doctors in 65 countries working.” According to Fraga, during disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, Cuba offered to send doctors and nurses, but in both instances, the United States denied the offer.

Fraga also cited successes in the realm of sports, literacy and, notably, sustainable growth. According to the World Wildlife Fund, “Cuba is the only country in the world today that meets the criteria for sustainable development,” Fraga said.

“I don’t come here to say that we are perfect,” Fraga clarified. “I don’t come here to say that we are better than you. I come here to say that we are very proud of these things, and we can work together and do many more things together.”

 

In a poll of the states of Iowa, Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee conducted by the Atlantic Counsel, 68 percent of the population supports ties with Cuba. Fraga assured that we would find the same support in Montana. Fraga also cited a Gallup poll that 54 percent of the American public has a good opinion of Cuba.

“The majority of the people want to go to Cuba but the majority of the people [have] not been able to, and that is the main problem we have right now,” Fraga said. Before the loosening of travel restrictions to Cuba in 2015, a license was required for U.S. citizens to travel to the country, despite the freedom to travel anywhere else in the world.

“Why?” Fraga asked, “We are that threatening to the United States?”

Though the Cold War is far behind the U.S., Fraga said that it was only in May 2015 that the United States removed Cuba from the Sponsor of Terror list, on which they had been couched since the 1980s despite a lack of evidence.

Fraga drew attention to the double standard that the United States has applied to Cuba, and stated how it has not benefitted either country.

“When we established diplomatic relations with the United States, [they] were the only country in the Western Hemisphere that [didn’t already] have relations with Cuba,” Fraga said.

Since the embargo was set in place in 1962, the Cuban government estimates that approximately $1.126 trillion in trade was lost with the United States. Due to the embargo, Cuba is forced to import from countries like China instead of their neighbors 90 miles to the north.

This massive loss, Fraga pointed out, simply doesn’t make sense: “It’s not a problem for us to put more money in [U.S.] pocket[s], because we are going to put more food on our table.”

Though relations have been improving slowly, when asked why more hasn’t been done about the embargo, Fraga answered, “Cuba is not a priority, unfortunately.” For many elected officials, their reelection doesn’t hinge on relations with Cuba.

That doesn’t mean the reality is ignored by those in office. In a statement read aloud as part of Fraga’s welcome, Sen. Jon Tester said, “During my visit to Cuba, I saw firsthand how 60 years of severed diplomatic policy has failed the people of Cuba and the people of Montana.”

Written by Bay Stephens