'Things are getting much better': Ambassador to talk Cuba-U.S. relations


BRATTLEBORO >> Ambassador Carlos Alzugaray says he did not expect to see diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba reestablished within his lifetime.

"But it happened," he said, referring to the Dec. 17, 2014, decision by President Barack Obama and Cuba's President Raúl Castro. "Things are getting much better."

The Windham World Affairs Council will present Alzugaray's "Cuba and the United States: The Opportunities and Challenges of Normalization," at 118 Elliot Street on Friday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m. Coffee, tea and conversation is planned to begin a half hour earlier. A question and answer session will follow the presentation.

Alzugaray said he became a diplomat in 1961 by chance, not decision. He served with the Cuban Foreign Ministry until 1996, representing Cuba all over the world, and was advisor to the Master of Global Political Affairs and Head of the Cuban Mission to the European Union. He later became a professor of International Relations at the University of Havana and received a doctorate in historical sciences. He serves as an advisor and commentator for Cuba's sociopolitical journal "Revista Temas," receiving the National Critics Award for Non-fiction Literature in 2001.

Although Alzugaray acknowledges the limit of detail he will be able go into during his presentation, he said he will try to underline the agreement's importance.

"I think it's very significant," he said. "There are many challenges in front us because of so many years of conflict."

Alzugaray said there is a political will to go ahead in reestablishing the relationship, although difficulties have been experienced on both sides.

"But conditions might change," he said, mentioning that having a Republican president who is against normalization could set things back. "I think what both sides are trying to do is make it very difficult for whoever comes in to reverse it."

The two countries behave in certain patterns, Alzugaray told the Reformer, referring to their systematic relationship. He said the big power presupposes the small power is bound to do whatever the big power wants it to do while the small power is usually kept out of whatever the big power is doing.

"That's a challenge," he said. "The other challenge is overcoming the weight of history and the embargo. I think, because we are neighbors, we should be working together. There are a number of issues both governments could work on together to find solutions."

Shared interests could include drug trafficking and environmental protection.

A bill was recently introduced that seeks to lift the travel ban on Cuba. Alzugaray said he thinks it has a fair chance at being approved in some time.

"I believe Sen. (Patrick) Leahy is supporting it," he said. "It's a proposal both Republicans and Democrats agree on. Opposition to that, I don't think, is too big. But of course, we have to see."

With new House Speaker Paul Ryan, Alzugaray is unsure which way the bill will go. He said Ryan was on record being against the embargo on Cuba but in his new role, "Nobody knows."

"He opposed the embargo for ideological and practical reasons," Alzugaray added.

Making similar presentations around the U.S., Alzugaray recently spoke at the University of Tampa in Florida and plans to hit the New Hampshire Institute of Politics plus several other stops after Brattleboro.

"There is always a new perspective of how people look at it," he said. "Generally, the reception has been really positive. I don't have any negative responses or rejections of the ideas that I propose."

He said he is happy to visit Vermont.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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