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It’s time to work with Cuba

Photo by Gawker

For better or worse, the Castro regime isn’t going away anytime soon:

“Cuba formally assumed Monday the presidency of the Community of Latinamerican [sic] and Caribbean States during the group’s summit in Chile calling for regional integration and independence from the United States.

Cuban President Raul Castro hailed the move as ‘a great honour’ and ‘recognition of the determined struggle of our people for independence’ despite the US crippling embargo of over half a century.

The Cuban chairmanship of the CELAC marked Havana’s full regional reintegration and was seen as a major diplomatic coup for the Castro brothers’ regime. Castro described the grouping of ’33 independent nations as a space of regional sovereignty to promote integration, dialogue, cooperation and solidarity’.

‘We will reject interference, aggression, threats and the use of force,’ he said as he took over the CELA chairmanship from his Chilean counterpart Sebastian Piñera shortly before the 24-hour summit closed.

Several CELAC leaders hailed the Cuban presidency.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez on Sunday said it was a sign of the ‘changing times’. Her US-backed Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos on Monday described it as a ‘very significant political development with special symbolism’.

‘We are building the ideal of a diverse Latin American and Caribbean region united in a common space of political independence and sovereignty over our enormous natural resources to advance toward sustainable development, regional integration,’ the 81-year-old Cuban leader told the summit.”

In many ways, Cuba is the natural leader of CELAC, which was created in 2010 as a counterbalance — or, as some are hoping, a substitute — to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States. The Cuban government has blazed the path for other nations in the hemisphere hoping to step out of America’s long shadow and create a region where sovereign states treat one another as equals.

The Cuban government has done this for half a century despite a severe embargo placed on the once-prospering island by its powerful neighbor to the north — not to mention numerous assassination attempts on Fidel Castro himself, which would make anyone at least a bit paranoid. (Imagine what would happen if we uncovered a Cuban plot to assassinate Pres. Obama.)

Cuba is a communist nation, of course, which means freedom of the press is severely restricted, power is centralized in the Communist Party of Cuba, and free trade is nearly non-existent. I doubt there’s anybody living in the United States or anywhere else in the world who’s more offended by such facts than I am.

But the world is not merely black and white, and there’s plenty to praise in Cuba.

In 2011 the struggling island placed 51st on the Human Development Index published by the United Nations, which ranks countries on the bases of health, schooling and standard of living. Cuba was assessed as having “High Human Development.” (Mexico and Brazil, both economic powerhouses in Latin America, placed 57th and 84th, respectively.) Cuba ranked near the middle on the Failed States Index in 2012, besting Mexico and Colombia, considered among America’s strongest allies in the region.

And while a communist nation 90 miles off the coast of Florida loomed as a major threat to the United States during the 1960s, today Cuba ranks as one of the most peaceful nations in the Western Hemisphere, according to the Global Peace Index, which bases its scores on war, violent crime and weaponry, among other indicators. (Cuba tops nations like Peru, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and, of course, the United States.)

The literacy rate in Cuba is estimated around 99.8 percent, higher than that of the United States, and up from about 70 percent when communism came to Cuba in 1959.

The Cuban Constitution lists several “guarantees”:

“that every man or woman, who is able to work, have the opportunity to have a job with which to contribute to the good of society and to the satisfaction of individual needs; that no disabled person be left without adequate means of subsistence; that no sick person be left without medical care; that no child be left without schooling, food and clothing; that no young person be left without the opportunity to study; that no one be left without access to studies, culture and sports.”

All this is to say that Cuba is not as terrible a place as many of describe, and there’s hope for improvement.

Yes, power is centralized in one party and the Cuban people don’t enjoy the rights that many Americans take for granted. But the same criticisms can be flung at the island of Puerto Rico, where the United States government is the perpetrator, not some fraternal autocracy.

And yes, pressure must continue to build on and off the island to ensure that Cuba becomes a freer and more open society. But, in the meantime, Cuba poses no threat to the United States, its people or the people of Latin America.

In fact, in many ways, the Cuban model should be imitated by many Latin American countries — including my beloved Honduras.

It’s hard to believe last October marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and yet we still find ourselves entrenched in Cold War politics. The United States can continue acting against the nations it disagrees with and fears — I thought America invaded Cuba — or it can do away with the Monroe Doctrine and begin working in equal partnership with the countries of Latin America, and the world.

That’s what Latin America seems to be doing these days.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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