Sep 06, 2023
The Council hosted a discussion about U.S.-Cuba relations featuring remarks from Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba in the U.S. Lianys Torres Rivera and Consul General of the Republic of Cuba in Washington DC Nora Alberteris Monterrey. The conversation was facilitated by the Council’s President & CEO, Lauren Swartz.
About the Event
The Council hoste a discussion about U.S.-Cuba relations featuring remarks from Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba in the U.S. Lianys Torres Rivera and Consul General of the Republic of Cuba in Washington DC Nora Alberteris Monterrey. The discussion focused on a range of topics about the historical US-Cuba relationship, current US-Cuba bilateral dialogues, and engagement with the American community. The conversation was facilitated by Lauren Swartz, President & CEO of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. Time for Q&A provided audience members with the chance to dive deeper into the topics of their choosing.
The event began with the Ambassador Torres explaining why she considers visits to the American public critical to her mission. She stated her belief that the minds of America’s youth are open to a new perspective about Cuba and that engaging in dialogue will improve Cuba’s relationship with the American public further. The first topic of discussion was Cuba’s place in the world and its close relationship with China and Russia. Ambassador Torres asserted that Cuba has a good relationship with all countries except the U.S. and that Cuban foreign policy does not concern itself with the internal affairs of other countries. Cuba sees non-interference as way to respect other countries’ sovereignty. A follow-up question addressed the news that Russia had established a human trafficking network to force Cubans to fight against Ukraine. The Ambassador responded that Cuba is neutral on the conflict in Ukraine and that Cuba rejects the use of mercenaries and the use of Cuban citizens as mercenaries. The conversation moved on to the relationship between the past three U.S. administrations and the Cuban government. Ambassador Torres stated that Cuba has always been willing to sit down with the American government and negotiate as equals, even during the Trump administration. The Ambassador described a shift in mindset during the Obama administration to a focus on solutions, although she saw the continued listing of the Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism as harmful to the Cuban people. The Ambassador further speculated whether the US economy could have prospered if it was sanctioned in the way Cuba is. On the question of what might end sanctions, Ambassador Torres said that Cuba is always ready for a civilized conversation and that ending sanctions would benefit both countries. The next topic was the focus of Cuban diplomacy. The Ambassador stated that their embassy in Washington speaks for Cuba, only asks for respect, and doesn’t care about ideology. She elaborated that Americans have a distorted image of Cuba and pointed to the revision in the country’s Family Code as a sign of the country’s progressive nature.
The next major topic of the discussion was Cuba’s economic reforms allowing for greater private enterprise and their effect on the average Cuban. The Ambassador replied that the COVID-19 pandemic had a major negative impact on the economy but that the hundreds of small companies started in the past two decades have added economic vibrancy. She further explained Cuba’s concerns about its vulnerability to climate change as an island and how Cuba aims to expand its economy in ways that protect its land. Ambassador Torres noted that expanding domestic food production would address the country’s largest economic challenge but that it is difficult to convince Cuba’s highly educated population to return to rural areas. This is part of a larger problem Cuba has retaining its best and brightest, whom the Cuban government is working to convince to stay on the island. Although Cuba has a national development plan for 2030, the Ambassador again lamented that American sanctions would act as a hindrance.
During the Audience Q&A Session, attendees asked about the path to becoming a Cuban diplomat and opportunities for women. Ambassador Torres explained that in 1959 the Cuban government institutionally established gender equality, although since then the fight has primarily been to change attitudes. She pointed to gender parity in the Cuban parliament and equity in salary as signs of success. Regarding her own career, the Ambassador joined the Foreign Service after high school and her success on the entrance exams. Another audience question was about the kinds of new businesses that are succeeding. The Ambassador explained that most new enterprises are under 100 workers and primarily in the service industry, although software development and construction are also significant. The next question asked about the Cuban-American lobby’s political impact. The Ambassador condemned Marco Rubio as overtly hostile to the Cuban people and said it is no use trying to change the minds of the diaspora in America. She asserted that Cuba will engage in dialogue with anyone who is respectful and that the hostile relationship is unfortunate because many Cuban-Americans and Floridians would benefit from Cuban trade. The following question was whether free market reforms indicate a change in revolutionary fervor, which the Ambassador denied. On the matter of the outlook of young Cubans, the Ambassador stated since the country and its economy are small and the population highly educated, they often look abroad for opportunities. The final question was about Biden’s Cuba policies. The Ambassador said she was shocked that the Biden administration raised human rights concerns about Cuba since her government does not involve itself in American internal affairs. She elaborated that Cuba is a friendly and welcoming country open to good relations on the condition of mutual respect. She encouraged attendees to contact their congressional representatives and object to current American policies on Cuban sanctions.
About the Speakers
- Lianys Torres Rivera, Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to the US
- Nora Alberteris Monterrey, Consul General of the Republic of Cuba in Washington DC
About the Diplochat Series
For nearly three-quarters of a century, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia has provided its members, supporters, and the Greater Philadelphia community with access to domestic and foreign policymakers, global leaders, and influential thinkers.
The Satell Family Foundation “Diplochat” series provides meeting attendees with the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with diplomats from around the world. Audience members can ask questions and engage with those appointed by their governments to represent their country, skillfully negotiate, and use soft power to maintain political, economic, and social relations on the global stage.