Ada Ferrer, Cuban Historian: "Cuba Is Not a Priority For The US"

A few months after the outbreak of the missile crisis between the United States, Cuba and the Soviet Union, in 1962, Ada Ferrer’s mother took her daughter in her arms and left Havana for New York, where her husband was waiting for her. Ada, now a history professor at New York University at the time, was under one year old. The first time of her life was spent in a New Jersey neighborhood, surrounded by Cuban migrants and, despite having lived in the United States all her life, she has never lost interest in the island.

“For me, Cuba has always been a present absence. I grew up with the pain of family separation, a pain that was not only for my family, there were many other families around me who had also left their parents and siblings. All that. At that time it was part of my environment. There was no way to escape from Cuba, “he says.

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For some time, he tried. But the subject came back to her more than once. He studied 19th century English literature as a strategy to escape the past until he finally reconciled with the idea that Cuba was also part of its history: “At that time, I began to study the history of Cuba and I have never stopped doing so until today. “.

In his latest book Cuba. An American History, published in English, traces the history of the relationship between Cuba and the United States, “a history of the relationship, sometimes intimate, sometimes explosive, always unequal, between both countries.”

From a historical perspective, how do you analyze movements of this last year in Cuba?

It is something new, we have never seen something like this before. There are people who say that nothing like this had happened in 30 years, referring to the Maleconazo [manifestaciones opositoras masivas ocurridas en Cuba el 5 de agosto de 1994]. But in reality the July protests represent something that had not been seen for more than 62 because never before, after Fidel came to power, have we experienced protests like these, in so many parts of the country, in large cities and small towns, with artists and young people but above all also people from the village who would never have dared to do something like that.

Taking into account that the youngest are the protagonists of these protests, how do you analyze the relationship of these new generations with the recent history of Cuba?

More than a third of the Cuban population was born after the fall of the Soviet Union. They have never lived in a country not in crisis, a country where you don’t need currency to live comfortably. Also, this is a generation that does not have that direct connection with the historical process of 1959, they feel very frustrated. Cuba is a society that prior to the revolution had a very strong tradition of civic protest, of civic activism. It seems to me that what these new generations in Cuba are trying to revive some of those traditions. That has never happened since 1959.

Are the protests taking place because Cuba is more isolated internationally than at other times in its history?

It is true that Cuba is now more isolated, but so is the United States. The Trump presidency caused a deterioration in the image of the United States in the world; it is not clear that the country has the same level of world leadership today. Cuba’s image in the world has also deteriorated. The world has seen the repression of the July 11 protests, it does not believe the Government when it says that it is all the fault of the embargo, although the world continues to rightly condemn that US policy, that is why the two sides have to change . If neither changes, there is no future. Neither the traditional US policy of harassment works nor does the revolutionary discourse make sense now. A lot of time has passed. If neither changes, there is no future.

One possible reading is that the protests are taking place now because those who made the revolution are not at the head of the government. Do you agree with this?

Yeah right. For example, one of the slogans of the protests has been: “Díaz-Canel singao”. In another time, that would never have happened. Many Cubans did not think well of Fidel or Raúl, but that they had said something like that to him in the street was something impossible. The current president does not have that historical relationship, that original legitimacy.

In your latest book you investigate the ties between the United States and Cuba, what place does Cuba now occupy in US foreign policy?

It is not a priority for them. What is happening now is that with the July protests, the United States had no choice but to begin to see what was happening in Cuba. They have created commissions to study, for example, the issue of remittances, flights, the possibility of reopening the Embassy, ​​but so far we have not seen much change. Perhaps now, with the infrastructure legislation that was signed in these days, the president can introduce some changes in the policy on Cuba. On the contrary, at times the Cuban government has responded to the hardening of US policy with greater human rights violations, as we saw in the 1990s.

Can that change with these protests?

It depends on several things. First, of the reaction of the Cuban government to the protests. Also of the number of Cubans entering the United States. The number of Cubans arriving by sea is increasing a lot and if it continues to increase, they should pay more attention to what happens to Cuba. Finally, of the legislative elections of 2022 in the United States, when the parties compete for the Latino vote.

What do you consider to be the most effective foreign policy of the United States towards Cuba?

I publicly supported Barack Obama when he announced the new policy towards Cuba. I think that this policy of openness was the best way to achieve a peaceful change in Cuba. I was in Cuba when Obama traveled. I could see the enthusiasm of the Cuban people. That feeling that maybe something was going to change, that something was finally moving. But then Trump came and all those I know who had opened a trade on the island, had to close. There are people who say that Obama’s policy failed, that it did not bring change to Cuba. But that seems very wrong to me. The policy of hostility, of aggressiveness, which has been going on for more than 60 years, has never produced a change.

At times, it seems that half a century ago they have been discussing the same thing. Identify new debates?

It is possible that the debate that artists are giving in Cuba is something new. It is a speech that is not based on hatred, nor on the law, nor on division, and that certainly gives you some hope. But in general I see, at this time, that the discourse is increasingly polarized, something that I consider very dangerous.

You mention, in your last book, that the history of Cuba can be a mirror of the United States. In that case, what image do you think Cuba would now return from the United States?

In the past the history of Cuba could be read the history of the United States as an empire. At present the issue is more complicated. In the United States now there is uncertainty not only about the present but also about its history. They are discussing the meaning of their own country, where its history begins, if in 1776 or 1619, the character of the American revolution, if the Constitution was originally a slave document. I think that fight for the reading of its history, about the historical material, is starting now in Cuba. A fight not only about the present but also about the past, about what the Republic was or was not, about the origin story of the 1959 revolution. As a historian, I find it very interesting and important that these debates are taking place at the same time in both places.

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