Antonio Martinez ’90, a foreign policy advisory to New Mexico’s Governor Bill Richardson, spoke about the future of U.S.-Cuban Relations at an event on October 7, 2009 that was co-sponsored by the Latin American Students Association, Amnesty International, Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI) and the International Law Society.
Martinez, who recently accompanied the governor on a trip to the island nation, said that it is time for restrictions on trade and travel between the U.S. and Cuba to be eased.
He began his presentation by showing “Free to Fly,” a documentary directed by Estela Bravo chronicling the intimidation tactics used by many anti-Castro activists seeking to prevent development of U.S.-Cuban relations. It raised a variety of constitutional issues regarding U.S. citizens’ rights to travel and restrictions on personal and democratic freedoms.
Another theme of the documentary was the great expense in time and energy that restrictive policies have had domestically. Many scholars argue that changing political circumstances have rendered the restrictions irrelevant and devoid of valid policy goals.
They have had an adverse impact on Cuban-American family members eager to visit their loved ones. Devastatingly sad stories are told of those left behind in Cuba due to economic reasons, and the loss of connections to them due to deficiencies in communications. Although these problems have been somewhat alleviated by the Obama administration, as family members are now allowed to visit Cuba, the security requirements and monetary costs are prohibitive for a vast majority of Cuban-Americans.
Rhonda Villamia, mother of Wynter Galindez, a 2007 BLS graduate, was especially affected by this situation. As a Cuban-American with strong family ties in Cuba, she expressed her sadness that, “people are not able to see their families…it makes no sense.”
After his presentation, Martinez fielded some tough questions from the audience on global relations, trademark rights and corporate lobbying. When asked what America’s role with our communist neighbor should be, he responded, “The best thing we can do about communism is to become an empowering influence for democracy and a good neighbor. Cuba’s system of government has not been changed by our embargo or restricting our citizens from traveling there. Cubans living on the island should determine their political future. The best hope for Cuba’s future lies in the fact that at least five million Cubans on the island have relatives here in the United States. Under an atmosphere of normal travel, normal communications, and basic trade, we can have a positive and respectful influence on Cuba’s future.”
By Judith N. Soto ’11