ISA Director Louis Pérez on WCHL 97.9 FM, Who’s Talking show


Click to listen.

Louis Pérez, J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at UNC Chapel Hill and Director, Institute for the Study of the Americas, gives background about Cuban history and politics to help us understand today’s events. The host asks about the new travel rules as it relates to the People to People framework,  the pros and cons of the new rules, and more. Listen now!

Cuba Then and Now


Cuba: Then and Now

A Workshop for Educators

For additional information please contact: Emily Chávez UNC-Duke Consortium Outreach Coordinator, | (919) 681-3982




Louis Pérez,Ph.D | J.Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and the Director of Institute for the Study of the Americas,UNC-Chapel Hill
Holly Ackerman,Ph.D | Librarian for Latin American,Iberian, and Latino/a Studies in the
Duke Libraries, Department of International and Area Studies
Miguel Rojas-Sotelo,Ph.D | NC Latin American Film Festival Director and
Special Events Coordinator, Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies
Bradley Simmons | Adjunct Lecturer of West African Music and History,
Director of the Duke Djembe Ensemble

Change Through Impoverishment: A Half-Century of Cuba-U.S. Relations, Part Two

perez_louisWritten by ISA Director Louis A. Pérez, Jr.
Published 12/17/2015 North American Congress on Latin America

By the early 2000s, the efficacy of the paradigm of economic sanctions and political isolation as the policy framework for regime change in Cuba could no longer stand up to close scrutiny.  The Castro government had survived the worst years of the post-Soviet crisis and endured the years of the severest U.S. sanctions.  A new relationship with Venezuela had relieved the island’s most pressing energy needs.  Cuba had completed, uneventfully, a transition of political leadership from Fidel to Raúl.  For all but the most intractable hardline defenders of political isolation and economic sanctions, the rationale for a change of policy was as self-evident as it was self-explanatory.  “There’s nothing more naive,” candidate Barack Obama insisted in May 2008, “than continuing a policy that has failed for decades.”  And to the point:  “It’s time for a new strategy.”

The momentous announcements of December 17, 2014 outlined the framework for the “new strategy.”  The United States, President Obama affirmed, could not “keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result,” hence, the President determined, it was time to “end an outdated approach” and “to try something different.”  The old policy, the President asserted, “hasn’t worked.” Obama repeated the argument one month later in his January 2015 State of the Union address:  “In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for 50 years, it’s time to try something new.” In Jamaica, en route to the April 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama, the President again explained his thinking: “We don’t want to be imprisoned by the past.  When something doesn’t work for 50 years, you don’t just keep on doing it; you try something new.”

The Obama administration brought a new lucidity to U.S. policy, informed with a far more nuanced understanding of the perils of a policy seeking regime change through economic ruin and political collapse.  It was counter-intuitive and indeed counter-productive, the administration understood, to seek regime change through civil conflict and social turmoil. As Obama explained:

“It does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked— and it hasn’t for 50 years— we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos… We should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.”

All in all, a long distance from Representative Torricelli’s determination to “wreak havoc in Cuba.”

To abandon “something that hasn’t worked” for 55 years and instead “try something new” spoke to an eminently rational logic, of course.  But it’s also true that power tends to assemble the parameters of logic in accordance with its needs.  What had not “worked” was the use of political isolation and economic sanctions to achieve regime change, the overriding purpose to which 55 years of U.S. policy was given.  Rapprochement was the form that trying “something new” assumed, less a change of ends than one of means: from a punitive policy devised to impoverish the Cuban people into rebellion to a benign policy designed to empower the Cuban people as agents of reform.  The telling phrase of the new policy took hold early: “to empower the Cuban people.”  Not a changed relationship with the government of Cuba, but a changed relationship with the people of Cuba– what the Chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, explained to the Harvard Crimson as “extending a hand to the Cuban people.” A portentous distinction, to be sure, one that implied more than a semantic detail, and invited the inference that to try something new meant to try a new way to initiate regime change.

The purport of U.S. policy was made explicit in the first sentence of President Obama’s December 17 announcement:  “Today the United States is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.” To engage the Cuban people, the President indicated weeks later at his year-end press conference, offered “the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people…Through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change than we would have otherwise…And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.” The renewal of diplomatic relations, Secretary of State John Kerry exulted, promised “thebeginning of a new era of a new relationship with the people of Cuba.”

“We want to try and go directly to the Cuban people,” Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson explained to Congress.  “I believe that we also will get some things that matter inopening our embassy and hopefully the ability to travel throughout the country and see more people, and support more people.”  The United States, Jacobson emphasized, was “committed to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, which will allow us to more effectively represent U.S. interests and increase engagement with the Cuban people,” a way “to have conversations” with the Cuban people, with “as many of the 11 million Cubans as we can.” Among the “11 million Cubans” the United States identified for empowerment were — Jacobson indicated—“cuenta propistas (the self-employed), emerging private sector, whether it is artists, cultural figures, or whether it is human rights activists, emerging independent media voice, bloggers, journalists.” There were very targeted sectors of the “Cuban people” indeed.

The proposition of engagement as a means to “empower” the Cubans loomed large in the new policy narratives.  “We strongly believe,” Secretary Jacobson insisted, “that having an embassy in Havana will enable us to do more things that help us more effectively empower the Cuban people.”  At another point Jacobson contended that, “Our efforts are to empower the Cuban people to take their lives into their own hands.” The United States, the Department of State pledged, “will remain focused on empowering the Cuban people and supporting the emergence of a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba.” State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon emphasized that “our desire and hope [are] that the Cuban people will know the benefits of liberty and become the sovereigns of their own destiny.” Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Tomasz Malinowski, summarized the U.S.’s purpose succinctly: “The empowerment of the Cuban people must be the bedrock of our new policy towards Cuba, and it will be.”

The Americans envisioned the emergence of “civil society” as a means of U.S. influence, explained Daniel Erikson of the Office of Cuban Affairs, a way to “increase U.S. leverage on the island.”The President’s announcement of December 17 thus represented a significant reset of a 55-year-old policy protocol.  “Our previous approach to relations with Cuba over a half century,” explained Jacobson, “though rooted in the best of intentions, failed to empower the Cuban people…As a result, unfortunately and unintentionally, those most deprived were the Cuban people.” (“Unfortunately,” true; “unintentionally,” false.)  “After 50 years of experience with the embargo,” explained Malinowski, “we have to face the hard truth that it has not weakened the repressive apparatus of the Castro government.  It has not strengthened Cuba’s civil society.  It has not given us the leverage we need to press for change.” The Americans envisioned the emergence of “civil society” as a means of U.S. influence, explained Daniel Erikson of the Office of Cuban Affairs, a way to “increase U.S. leverage on the island.”
The salient facets of American intent stood in sharp relief as a matter of historical continuity. The United States pursued normalization of relations as a matter of instrumental purpose: to provide moral support and material assistance as a means to “empower” Cubans to act on behalf of the change the Americans deemed to be in their best interest, to achieve from within what could not be accomplished from without. This was the interior meaning of “trying something new.”  If not exactly change of regime, in the short run, then change in the regime, in the long run—“to contribute to the democratic development and prosperity of the country,” explained the White House. “We would hope to bring about change in the regime,” Secretary Jacobson acknowledged.  “And simultaneously, we would hope to empower the Cuban people to be able to make that change.” The U.S. commitment to support the “emerging private sector in Cuba,” Jacobson predicted, would result in “many more of these entrepreneurs emerging” as well as the hope that they would “be able to prosper and expand and be agents for change within Cuba.”

“Empowerment” contemplated a strategy designed to drive a wedge between the Cuban people and the Cuban government, to wean the Cuban people off their “dependence” on the State by subsidizing the emergence of a market economy and the creation of a civil society. The expectation was that the Cuban people would in this way be “empowered” to act in defense of private economic interests, and thereupon to serve as agents of political change.  “The more people who are not reliant on the state for their economic future,” suggested Jacobson, “[free to] make their own economic decisions, I think politically and economically, the more it empowers people.”

The United States, Secretary Malinowski indicated, favored those policies in which “the Cuban people will be less dependent on their government and will have more power to shape their future.  That is what we hope will happen.”  One of the virtues of the black market in Cuba, Malinowski suggested, was that people, “in addition to enriching themselves, become more independent, and less dependent on the state.” It was with a sense of foreboding to ponder the implications of comments made in 2015 by Senator Ben Cardin on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “U.S. policy is directly responsible for helping the Cuban people improve their living conditions and achieve a new degree of independence from the Cuban government,” Cardin said. The proposition of the United States “helping the Cuban people” achieve their “independence from the Cuban government” was breathtaking.

The United States contemplated a “long view” of regime change, a strategy to engage in a politics of change as a process over time rather than an “event” of sudden collapse.  Normalization of relations offered a means to obtain change in Cuba, if not in the short run, then certainly in the course of time.  “Nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight,” President Obama cautioned. Change in Cuba “is going to take time,” Secretary of State Kerry predicted, adding that it would be “unrealistic to expect normalizing relations to have, in a short term, a transformational impact.” Secretary Malinowski was lucid: “Authoritarian regimes don’t just give up their power voluntarily.”  Rather, in Malinowski’s view, change would come by “empowering people to demand change.” In the case of Cuba, this meant “making the Cuban people less dependent on the Cuban state for their livelihood…through information coming from the outside, and less control by the Cuban state.” And a large dose of international pressure.

The “change in regime” as contemplated by the United States implied assistance for entrepreneurial projects, the expansion of telecommunication facilities, expanded access to information, support for new technology infrastructure, and promotion of civil society.  The Treasury Department’s removal of limits on remittances, announced in September 2015, was designed as a means of “empowering Cubans with opportunities for self-employment, and in turn strengthening independent civil society.” The revision of regulatory policies to allow increased financial support for the emerging private sector, explained John Smith, Deputy Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, was meant to help “the Cuban people freely determine their own future,” based on the proposition that by facilitating “the flow of authorized funds directly to the Cuban people to help promote self-employment and increased private property ownership”  civil society would be “strengthened.” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Administration Matthew Borman explained the new regulations as a way “to empower the nascent Cuban private sector by supporting private economic activity” and “improve [Cubans’] living standards and gain greater economic independence from the state.” By authorizing American companies to engage in telecommunications sales, Secretary Jacobson affirmed, “and acting to get information into Cuba, to work with entrepreneurs . . . we can begin to increase the pace at which people separate themselves from the state.” Asked how the United States would measure progress made under the new policy, Under Secretary of Commerce Stefan Selig responded:  “Fundamentally, have we supported and empowered the Cuban people?  Have we put them on the path to help build their nascent private sector, and given them greater economic independence from the state?”

The “license” of power is perhaps impossible to revoke.  It informs the very history from which the powerful obtain moral validation, from which the exercise of power assumes such utter common-place normality as to take on the appearance of the natural order of things, hardly noticed at all except as a confirmation that all is right in the world.  Cuba-U.S. relations have been conditioned by nearly 200 years of a history in which the warrant of entitlement has defined the very premise of U.S. policy.  The United States presumes authority to manage Cuban internal affairs, to seek to shape outcomes and to influence the course of events, a stance informed with the moral conviction that the Americans have the authority— indeed, the duty, to guide the affairs of Cubans for their own best interests— and further, that the Cubans have the obligation to accede to U.S. guidance.  The practice has deep historical antecedents, and in the course of time has developed into something of a default stance from which the United States has presumed to engage Cuba.  “If we engage,” President Obama explained to CNN’s Candy Crowley, “we have the opportunity toinfluence the course of events at a time when there’s going to be some generational change in that country.  And I think we should seize it and I intend to do so.” Secretary of State Kerry advanced the same argument, indicating that rapprochement “will enhance our ability to have a positive impact on events inside Cuba and to help improve the lives of the Cuban people.”

The Cubans have engaged the process of normalization within a paradigm of mutual respect, in the words of Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, “on the basis of respect and equality, without any prejudice to the independence and sovereignty of Cuba, and without any interference in our internal affairs.”

The United States embarked upon normalization to change Cuba, to restructure the economy, to remake its political system, to reorganize the character of Cuban society, all in the guise of righteous motive and noble purpose; the exercise of power represented as the performance of beneficent intent and deeds of disinterested ideals, in the best interest of the Cuban people, for their own good.  The United States, Jacobson explained to Congress, wished to help the Cuban people “to be able to do what they wish.  To be able to make their own decisions,” to enable “the Cuban people to freely determine their own future,” and prepare them “to take their lives into their own hands.”

Under Secretary of Commerce Stefan Selig expressed the desire “to see if we can do the right thing for the Cuban people… to create freedom, and prosperity, to bring people out of poverty …to really help.” Normalization, Secretary Kerry predicted, “will contribute to an empowering [and] helping the Cuban population.” And Kerry at another point: “We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas, practice their faith; where the commitment to economic and social justice is realized more fully; where institutions are answerable to those they serve; and where civil society is independent and allowed to flourish.”

The United States purports to lift Cuba up from a state of backwardness–to assist in “the modernization of the Cuban economy,” Secretary Jacobson indicated, specifically to bring Cuba into the modern world.  “Through a policy of engagement,” explained President Obama on December 17, 2014, “we can more effectively . . . help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.” A “talking point” was born: to “help the Cuban people move into the 21st century,” as Secretary Jacobson affirmed; or, as Deputy Assistant Secretary Borman repeated, “to bring the Cuban people into the 21st century.”

These are recurring tropes deeply inscribed in the assumptions that have guided U.S. policy all throughout the twentieth century.  The objective of the U.S. military occupation of 1899-1902, the United States claimed, was to bring Cuba into the twentieth century, according to papers from the Library of Congress.  “We are dealing with a race that has steadily been going down for a hundred years,” Governor General Leonard Wood explained in 1900 as he justified the the need for U.S. occupation, “and into which we have to infuse new life, new principles and new methods of doing things.” In 1933, when Ambassador Sumner Welles arrived to Cuba, he explained his motivations similarly: “to assist the Cuban people themselves to solve the political crisis which had developed and to provide, by cooperation between our two Governments, a means for the rehabilitation of Cuba’s national economy.”  Welles ultimately “solved” the Cuban political crisis by aiding and abetting the rise of Colonel Fulgencio Batista.

What has constituted “normal” in nearly 200 years of Cuba-U.S. relations has been the presumption of U.S. entitlement to impose its will on Cuba. Today Cubans face a new challenge: to defend the historic project of self-determination and national sovereignty under circumstances of normal relations, in which the Americans have presumed the condition of “normal” as the environment in which to effect change in Cuba.  In other words, Cuba engages the United States defending historic claims to national sovereignty and self-determination while the United States renews relations with Cuba determined to “bring about change in the regime.”  These two versions of “normal relations” will be difficult to reconcile, and indeed raise the specter of the continuation of the adversarial tensions of the last 50 years, only now in a different form and as a new phase.  In fact, there are no usable models for “normal relations.” What has constituted “normal” in nearly 200 years of Cuba-U.S. relations has been the presumption of U.S. entitlement to impose its will on Cuba.  The historic model of “normal relations” casts the United States as the arbiter of Cuban destiny— always in the name of what “best serves” the interests of the Cuban people.  In tone and tenor, in hubris and chutzpah, in the breezy way that self-righteous certainty professes selfless moral purpose— “the people of Cuba would be best served”— the American purpose reenacts its history.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme…


Change Through Impoverishment: A Half-Century of Cuba-U.S. Relations

perez_louisWritten by ISA Director Louis A. Pérez, Jr.
Published 12/14/2015 North American Congress on Latin America

Expectations soared on December 17, 2014: “Sweeping changes ushering in a transformational era,” exulted the New York Times. “A truly historic moment,” pronounced the Huffington Post. Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of the Archdiocese of Miami rejoiced over the “game changer” announcements, and the Brookings Institution predicted “seismic change” in the offing. A “bold new policy,” proclaimed the Chicago Tribune.

That the joint announcements in Havana and Washington on December 17 portended change could hardly be gainsaid, of course. Some things did indeed change. Cubans and Americans, at the highest levels of government, were speaking to each other – instead of at each other. That was something. To re-open embassies in Havana and Washington: that was something too. All to the good, of course. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson was most assuredly correct to note that “diplomatic relations and having embassies is incredibly important in a relationship like this where you have so much to overcome and where you have differences.” Given the long dismal state of affairs between Cuba and the United States, resumption of diplomatic relations could not be seen in any way other than the most salutary development since the establishment of Interests Sections in 1977. The change of policy was welcomed.

But it’s also true that some things had not changed, and therein lurked the specter of a past foretold, for much of what had not changed was precisely what had been at the source of the rupture of the past 55 years. An old politics appeared in the guise of new policy. These are times to contemplate an unfolding history as a cautionary tale, a time from which to divine present purpose from the past.

The Cuba-U.S. estrangement began early. It didn’t take long at all – less than 10 months, in fact – for the U.S. State Department to conclude that it was “unrealistic to assume that we shall ever be able to do business with the Castro Government on a basis which could be termed even reasonably satisfactory.” Six months later, the United States had committed itself to a policy of regime change in Cuba.

The policy was pursued with a single-minded resolve: through political isolation, an armed invasion, countless numbers of assassination plots, years of covert operations, and decades of punitive economic sanctions. All in all, a 55-year-old policy given to the overthrow of the Cuban government – or perhaps more correctly, given to the creation of conditions that would produce the overthrow of the Cuban government.

Of all the methods devised to obtain a change of regime, none seemed as compelling as the use of political isolation and economic sanctions. Officially designated as an “economic denial program,” sanctions expanded into a full-blown policy protocol designed to induce economic hardship in Cuba. It should not be supposed that the Cuban people were unintended “collateral damage” of U.S. policy. On the contrary, the Cuban people were the target. Cubans were held responsible for, and made to bear the consequences of, the programs and policies of their government. “For all practical purposes, we are now in virtual open conflict with the Castro government,” Assistant Secretary of State R. Roy Rubottom concluded by mid-1960.

“We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans… [T]he Cuban ‘people’ have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and out-maneuvered, assuming that some of them have been alert, by the communists.”“We have gone as far as we can in trying to distinguish between the Cuban people and their present government, much as we sympathize with the plight of what we believe to be the great majority of Cubans… [T]he Cuban ‘people’ have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and out-maneuvered, assuming that some of them have been alert, by the communists.”

Undersecretary of State Douglas Dillon agreed, and endorsed policies designed to have a “serious effect on the Cuban people,” noting: “We need not be so careful about actions of this kind [i.e., sanctions], since the Cuban people [are] responsible for the regime.”

Sanctions were designed to produce economic havoc as a way to promote popular discontent, to inflict adversity as a permanent condition of daily life. They were meant to “exert a serious pressure on the Cuban economy and contribute to the growing dissatisfaction and unrest in the country,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Mann explained. That is, U.S. sanctions were intended to politicize hunger with the expectation that, driven by despair and motivated by want, the Cuban people would rise up against the Castro government. “If they [the Cuban people] are hungry,” President Dwight Eisenhower predicted confidently, “they will throw Castro out.”

The intent was to “weaken [the Castro government] economically,” explained one State Department briefing paper, to “promote internal dissension; erode its internal political support . . . [and] seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion.” Sanctions were designed to create “the necessary preconditions for nationalist upheaval inside Cuba,” the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research explained, to obtain the downfall of the Castro government “as a result of internal stresses and in response to forces largely, if not wholly, unattributable to the U.S.” The idea was to use “economic pressures . . . in order to engender more public discomfort and discontent,” explained Assistant Secretary Rubottom, in the form of “a relentless, firm pressure, [and] a steady turning of the screw.” The “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Lester Mallory concluded in 1960, “is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”  Mallory recommended that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba, . . . [to deny] money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and [the] overthrow of government.”

Punitive sanctions were meant to deliver a message, a way to “inform” the Cuban people that relief from U.S.-induced hardship would not be forthcoming until they had bestirred themselves to remove Fidel Castro. The “primary objective” of U.S. policy, Eisenhower emphasized was “to establish conditions which will bring home to the Cuban people the cost of Castro’s policies and of his Soviet orientation.” The President continued:

“I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this communist orientation. We hope, naturally, that these measures will not be so drastic or irreversible that they will permanently impair the basic mutuality of interests of Cuba and this country.”“I anticipate that, as the situation unfolds, we shall be obliged to take further economic measures which will have the effect of impressing on the Cuban people the cost of this communist orientation. We hope, naturally, that these measures will not be so drastic or irreversible that they will permanently impair the basic mutuality of interests of Cuba and this country.”

Covert operations against Cuba during the 1960s were planned in coordination with the economic denial program, principally by laying siege to the infrastructure of the Cuban economy through the infiltration of sabotage teams assigned to disrupt Cuban agriculture and disorganize industry. The Central Intelligence Agency planned a “strategy of economic strangulation to weaken and undermine the regime,” to “tighten the economic noose around Castro” in order to create “economic chaos” based on “efforts to destroy the Cuban economy by sabotage, sanctions, and other measures of economic warfare.” General Edward Lansdale, charged with the coordination of sabotage against the Cuban economy, explained the objectives of covert operations this way:

“Basically, the [covert] operation is to bring about the revolt of the Cuban people. The revolt will overthrow the Communist regime and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace …The political actions will be assisted by economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba’s economic needs, [and] psychological operations to turn the people’s resentment against the regime.”

By the mid-1960s, the CIA could speak of a “concept of the covert action plan,” including “covert economic denial operations . . . designed to reinforce and be reinforced by our overt measures of economic pressure. Both types of activities directed against the economy are intended to aggravate existing economic difficulties and thus to increase the level of disaffection not only in the popular mass but particularly in the power centers of the regime.” Covert operations contemplated a program of “economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba’s economic needs,” thereby “to bring about the revolt of the Cuban people [and] to turn the peoples’ resentment increasingly against the regime.”

Infiltration teams sabotaged specific sectors of the economy. “Our covert activities,” presidential advisor Richard Goodwin reported to President John Kennedy in 1961, “would now be directed toward the destruction of targets important to the economy, e.g., refineries, plants using U.S. equipment, etc.”

Four key sectors of the Cuban economy were targeted: electric power facilities, including the destruction of electric generating plants; petroleum refineries, storage facilities, and tankers; railroad and transportation systems, including bridges, railroad tracks, and rolling stock as well as port, shipping, and maritime facilities; and production and manufacturing sectors, including the industrial facilities, sugar cane fields and mills, and communication systems. Particular attention was given to sugar production, a way to undermine the island’s principal source of foreign exchange. Covert operations included arson of cane fields, sabotage of machinery, and acts of chemical warfare, including the spreading of chemicalsin sugar cane fields to sicken Cuban cane cutters. During the late 1960s, the UPI reported that the United States engaged in seeding clouds to induce drought conditions as a means to ruin the Cuban sugar harvest.
In the years that followed, successive U.S. administrations devised new means and designed new methods to deepen economic hardship. The administration of Ronald Reagan introduced new restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, suspending U.S. tourism to deprive the island of a key source of foreign exchange. The United States maneuvered behind the scenes to make Cuban foreign debt negotiations as difficult as possible. U.S. corporations operating in third countries were pressured to suspend trade with Cuba; new limits were placed on cash and gifts Cuban residents in the United States were able to send to the island. In 1982, the Reagan administration placed Cuba on its list of state sponsors of terrorism, further complicating Cuban financial and commercial transactions.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 resulted in economic calamity in Cuba–optimal conditions, the Americans were persuaded, to deliver the coup de grâce to the faltering Castro government. The enactment of the Torricelli Law (1992) and the Helms-Burton Law(1996) expanded the scope and increased the severity of sanctions.  The Torricelli law prohibited subsidiaries of U.S. corporations in third countries from trading with Cuba and authorized the President to withhold U.S. foreign aid, debt relief, and free trade agreements with countries that provided assistance to Cuba. All ships trading with Cuba were denied access to U.S. port facilities for a period of 180 days after having visited Cuba.

“My objective is to wreak havoc in Cuba… My task is to bring down Fidel Castro,”Amendments to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations prohibited travellers from returning to the United States with Cuban cigars and rum for personal use. Cuban-American spending on travel-related fees charged by the Cuban government was limited to an annual maximum of $500. The United States reduced the humanitarian aid packages U.S. citizens could send to Cuba. Luggage weight to Cuba was restricted to a maximum of 44 pounds per traveller, with no paid excess baggage permitted. These latter measures were especially harsh, for they limited the much needed clothing and miscellaneous consumer goods often carried by visiting family members.“My objective is to wreak havoc in Cuba… My task is to bring down Fidel Castro,” Representative Robert Torricelli blustered.

Helms-Burton expanded U.S. sanctions into domains of extra-territorial overreach, stipulating punishment of foreign companies, governments, and lending institutions that engaged in business transactions with, or provided financial services to, Cuba.  It banned sugar products from countries that imported Cuban sugar and denied entry to third-country citizens who engaged in business involving previously nationalized U.S. properties. Helms-Burton converted a policy into a law, making economic sanctions a permanent condition until a “transition government” undertook verifiable steps toward the establishment of a “democratically elected government” – defined specifically as a government that did “not include Fidel Castro or Raul Castro.”

For nearly 55 years, the United States pursued regime change in Cuba relentlessly through different measures and by way of diverse means. Covert operations against Cuba during the 1960s would today most assuredly rise to the level of acts of state-sponsored terrorism. Writing years later, presidential advisor Richard Goodwin, himself party to and participant in the planning of covert operations against Cuba under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, acknowledged that the U.S. efforts to overthrow Fidel Castro “included assassination, sabotage of the Cuban economy, guerrilla infiltration–a kind of state-sponsored terrorism.”

Post-Soviet policies during the 1990s were particularly harsh, for they sought to exacerbate Cuban hardship, to make daily life in Cuba as difficult and grim as possible, to deepen Cuban impoverishment and increase Cuban suffering at every turn and at every opportunity. These were years during which the Cuban people were reeling from a new round of shortages, increased rationing, declining services, and growing scarcities, where the needs of everyday life in their most ordinary and commonplace form were met often only by Herculean efforts. U.S. policy sought to bring the regime to a collapse in calamity through popular uprising, to provoke a civil conflagration as a means through which to remove all vestiges of the Castro government in one fell swoop, a clean break from which to start anew and install a government with which the United States could “do business.”

Latin American Studies at UNC Celebrates 100th Anniversary

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By Katie Bowler Young

LatinAmericanStudiesPromo_480x320_v03-325x250The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Latin American studies on campus during the 2015-16 academic year.

“This is a remarkable anniversary,” says Jonathan Hartlyn, senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences and a scholar of Latin American political science. “It helps explain why Carolina has long been at the forefront of Latin American scholarship—helping the university build extensive and deep relations with universities and colleagues in the United States and throughout Latin America.”

In conjunction with the anniversary, the UNC Institute for the Study of the Americas published One Hundred Years of Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1915-2015, prepared by the institute’s Director Louis A. Pérez and Associate Director Beatriz Riefkohl Muñiz. The book examines the history of Latin American courses and curricula at the University and offers tribute to leaders who have supported the area of study.

The first course with Latin American content at UNC was introduced in 1915. Professor William W. Pierson offered “Spanish-American History” in what was then the Department of History and Government. In conjunction with the course, Pierson published a syllabus on Latin American history, which—for a mere 25 cents—provided one of the earliest guides to an area of study for which there were very few English-language textbooks or survey histories.

In the following decades, the Latin American studies curriculum gradually expanded, with additional offerings in history, government, Romance languages, geology and geography. By the 1940s, the expansion of U.S. activity with Latin America —ranging from trade and commerce to leisure travel—was reflected in the increase in activity at UNC as well.

By this time, undergraduate and graduate education in Latin American studies began taking its current shape, with both levels of study approached in an interdisciplinary manner and influenced by the complexities of the history of the region.

Carolina also saw a rapid growth in incoming students from Latin America. The establishment of the Inter-American Institute in 1940, in cooperation with the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, created a program offering English-language training at UNC. The program was developed by an early advocate for Latin American studies at UNC and in the United States, Professor Sturgis Leavitt, who collaborated with Víctor Andrés Belaúnde Terry, director of the summer school in Lima, to create the program. The inaugural class brought 108 students to UNC from seven Latin American countries in 1941.

“It was a time of remarkable progress at UNC,” says Pérez, who notes that Leavitt’s contributions ensured that UNC was truly “of the two Americas.”

Latin American studies continued to expand over the years, with content included in courses in political science, anthropology, city and regional planning and economics. This growth occurred even despite the challenges that the 1950s brought, with a deepening of hostility toward the U.S. throughout the region in the post-war years.

UNC developed new initiatives, such as a 1960s Department of State-sponsored exchange program that brought 15 Cuban students to campus at a time of deep estrangement between Cuba and the United States. This, and other similar activity, continued to put UNC’s Latin American programs at the forefront of international activity throughout the Americas.

The programs and activities that Leavitt began were further strengthened by Federico G. Gil, a Cuban-born UNC scholar on Latin American governments—Chile in particular—and on Latin American-United States relations. Gil became director of the Institute for Latin American Studies, now the Institute for the Study of the Americas (ISA), in 1959 and served in this role until 1983. During his tenure, he was instrumental in the formation of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), serving as a founding member and as president in 1971. Three additional UNC-Chapel Hill faculty members have also served as LASA president: Henry Landsberger, Lars Schoultz and Evelyne Huber.

Gil’s role in bringing forward Latin American scholarship throughout the U.S. is acknowledged in an award given each year by the Institute for the Study of the Americas. In recognition of Gil’s “receptivity to new ideas and approaches … especially his promotion of empirically based research,” the institute presents the Gil Award for the Best Undergraduate Honors Thesis written on a Latin American or Caribbean topic.

By the close of Gil’s tenure, there were 50 faculty members at UNC who devoted more than half their research and teaching to the study of Latin America. Today, there are more than 80. Many of their efforts are brought together through the Institute for the Study of the Americas, one of 20 National Resource Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to advance the study of Latin America.

The institute has been an integral part of the campus. Today, Latin American studies extends to a range of programs and initiatives, including the Latino Migration Project, the Yucatec Maya Summer Institute, Environmental Studies in the Galápagos, the Jewish Studies in Buenos Aires Summer Program, UNC in Costa Rica, and a many other community and campus programs, lectures and films.

The institute also offers funding for faculty and graduate and undergraduate activities, with $225,000 in fellowship and travel support available to enable students to pursue their research in Latin America—and has helped build UNC’s library collections, where there are now more than 388,000 volumes related to Latin America, including 265,000 volumes in Spanish and Portuguese.

The Institute for the Study of the Americas is also part of a consortium with Duke University, a collaboration first made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 1989 and fortified with the first National Resource Center award at UNC. U.S. Department of Education funding has been continuous since 1991 and has allowed the institute to continue expanding offerings.

Learn more about the institute at