Cuba: Past, Present and Future

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On the night of June 12, 2009, CSI hosted an event titled, “Cuba: Past, Present and Future” at the Letelier Theater in Georgetown. In this event, the audience was able to hear from four professionals who have done work in Cuban affairs. Each gave the audience a different perspective on how to view the United States’ relationship with Cuba—these experts included Wayne Smith, Eugene Puryear, Jose’ Pertierra and Cecila Domeyko.

Wayne Smith was a former diplomat of the US Department of State that worked on Cuban affairs for well over 30 years. He presented many interesting facts about Cuba, and US-Cuban relations during his tenure working for the State Department. At that time Cuban-American relations were tense with the Bay of Pigs incident and the alignment of Fidel Castro with the Soviet Union. Smith discussed a long history of presidential administrations doing far too little to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, including the most recent Bush administration. It was interesting to note that post-9/11 Cuba kept their airspace open and also signed all 12 anti-terror conventions, which provoked no response from the United States. It seemed to Smith that former President Bush’s main objective was to topple the Castro’s government.

Mr. Smith then came to discuss the current administration under Barack Obama. Smith hopes that the United States will open a greater dialogue with Cuba by allowing for remittances and also by opening channels of migration to the States. This would enable Cuba to be an open society, he stressed. He wants the relationship to move forward and still presses for policy to change towards Cuba. U.S.-Cuban relations are better off now with the Obama administration in power, he said.

Eugene Puryear, a Cuban 5 advocate, talked about the current battle to free five Cubans illegally arrested for preventing anti-Castro terrorist organizations from carrying out terrorist attacks in Cuba. Puryear also discussed the pattern of past presidents dealing with Cuba in a negative light, and all the aspirations attached to the new Obama administration to strengthen relations between the two countries.

The 4th speaker, Jose Pertierra, represented the council for Alien Gonzales, the Cuban illegal immigrant who sailed on a raft to the United States to seek asylum and be with his father. Mr. Pertierra said that there was a abnormal relationship between the United States and Cuba, stressing scornful paternalism with which United States treats Cuba. He wanted the United States to put into focus the geopolitical issues which are at stake with regards to this fragile relationship between the two countries. Pertierra stated that more effort and cooperation is needed between the states when dealing with trade, immigration, and travel. Other issues that need to be deliberated should be prisoner exchange and the way in which the Organization of American States is shifting policy towards Cuba.

The final speaker was Cecila Domeyko, a documentary film-maker. She made a documentary on an all-women orchestra in Cuba, sharing with us her thoughts on making the documentary. She hoped to show women’s empowerment through her documentary, allowing for an unprecedented view into the daily lives of the Cuban women. She wanted everyone to know what their homes looked like, their hopes and dreams. The theme was the artist and family—the universality of the artist struggle.

The various dimensions presented in the panel discussion on the past, present and future of Cuba allowed the audience to see how the relationship between the United States and Cuba has evolved, and how professionals dealing with Cuba advocate for a strengthening of the relationship.

Written by Rajit Das, a CSI volunteer.


Separation of Church and State, Muslim World and Civil Society

Three major power players in the Muslim world held an intriguing discussion under the title, “Separation of Religion and State: Muslim World and Civil Society”, at the Henry L. Stimson Center on the 26th of May.

The first speaker, Elias Aoun, is a lawyer who discussed how the Islamic world should inject their legal system with common principles. Tyranny may have resulted from the lack of common law and lack of adoption of natural rights in some parts of the region. Aoun stated we should learn from religion the basic tenets of Righteousness, and just Truth, resulting in the eventual incorporation of these concepts within the law. Overall he emphasized the need for a reform in the current laws found in Muslim countries.

The second speaker, Dr Katrin Michael, a female member of the opposition party in the Iranian government, spoke about the urgent need for the reformation of existing laws and establishing new ones in regards to a rights of the women. Currently, she is a human rights activist who stressed that women are treated as second class citizens since, in Islam, a woman is legally considered to be half of a man. Furthermore, throughout her speech, she gave numerous citations of passages from the Quran, such as Article III of Surah 1.4 that allows a husband to beat his wife. She also discussed the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. She concluded her speech by saying that countries should create a independent commission for women that works along with the president, ensuring that women have a role in government, and that peace movements towards societal ills against women should become more progressive through the use of the media.

The final speaker, Peshwaz Faizulla, a Kurd and the online editor of, showcased some unique points in ways in which Muslim countries should reform the establishment of their laws. For example, Islam has no “church”, therefore there shouldn’t be a relationship between church and state found in certain Muslim countries. Also he stated that religion is a product of human history, and Islamic disputes are more for power than for necessity. This has led to the continuing bloody conflict found in Muslim history. He also made the point of emphasizing that knowledge is what Prophet Muhammad advocated for, and that knowledge was not desired amongst his people after his death. “Secularism” is deemed to be a western concept, unfamiliar to people in the Muslim world. Yet this form of government should be implemented in its various ways in the Middle East, according to Faizulla.

These speeches were given by reputable Middle East specialists, showcasing the multifaceted ways in which reform ideas are being circulated amongst intellectuals in the Islamic world. It allows one to think how, if possible, any changes may come in future discussions of this sensitive topic. This CSI event allowed an “outsiders” view into what is happening in the Muslim world and I am certainly optimistic of the positive changes that are yet to come for the region.

Written by Rajit Das, a CSI volunteer.


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