By Quanece Williams
Cuba is a country that is stigmatized with being a communist country, in which the rights of citizens are suppressed. However, apart from that, it is a country that is often overlooked when learning about world history. Thus, the presentation of Cuban Educator Ariel Dacal Díaz was extremely informative. Diaz not only discussed the advantages and the shortcomings of the country as a whole, he also analyzed the bilateral relations between Cuba and the United States.
Cuban Educator Ariel Ducal Diaz speaks to the audience with help from his translator.
Díaz’s history of the country was vital and ranged from topics including the social system, the economic system, sports, political participation, democratization, and bilateral Cuba-U.S. relations. Cuba’s social system is particularly interesting because although the country is primarily poor, education and health care are free and universal. Furthermore, both are offered to every citizen from birth to death. Diaz declared this one of the country’s greatest attributes because according to him, “in many countries health care, housing, and education are commercializing but it should be a human right”.
The complex economic system was then analyzed and a timeline was provided to explain the current system that is implemented today. He shared that in 1959, Cuba had 80% of its market dominated by the U.S. and then in 1989, 85% of Cuba’s market was connected to the economy of the Soviet Union, which would eventually dissolve, leaving the country economically crippled. This significantly shaped their economic system, as illustrated in the policy that is currently implemented in regard to foreign investment, which establishes the limits (30%) of foreign capital investment.
An entertaining part of his presentation was when Diaz went into depth on the role of sports in their society. He stated that the country decided that sports are not a commodity, although the country is small and poor. He was also excited to share that the country placed 5th in the Olympics in 1992. The countries economy is intrinsically linked to the sports world because equipment was often not provided so athletes used their teammates as weights. Additionally, the poor economy is also the motivation for sports players to leave the country in search for a contract that will provide the most benefits, which further exacerbates the economic status of the country.
Political participation, one of the tenets of democracy, was another salient issue Diaz examined. He stated that the MLK Center seeks to educate the polity and outlined the requirements for participation as followed: (1) that persons want to participate (2) that people can participate (3) that people know how to participate. In addition, he shared that the Cuban culture is now dependent upon the government because of communism. Diaz also shared his notion of democracy and stated that it needs to be grassroots and comprehensible. Other tenets for democracy outlined by Diaz are the acknowledgment of another person’s rights and that democracy will not occur with just one person. Additionally, he shared that democracy must alter the perception of liberty and quoted “I am free if you are free”, highlighting that one individuals liberty is conditioned on another’s liberty (a valuable lesson for the U.S. to learn especially with the views on minorities).
The last issue important issue that was discussed was the U.S., as Cuba’s largest neighbor, exerting dominance in their country. He introduced the analogy of the levee that was intended to provide support in New Orleans with Katrina, and questioned how strong the country was to withstand the flood of the United States.
Overall, the presentation was useful because it provided me with information about the country that I was unfamiliar with. I was unaware that an embassy was opened in D.C., as well as Havana and still believed that the relationship between both countries was tenuous. However, after attending the presentation I realize as Diaz stated, “Cuba is not a paradise but Cuba is not hell”.
ECSU Professors Martin Mendoza-Botelho and Ricardo Perez (Sociology) pose with the Cuban guest Ariel Ducal Diaz (middle) and his translator.