John Decker: Cubans in America

John Decker – After three exciting days in Havana, we returned to Miami on Thanksgiving. Dr. Hollander’s parents were kind enough to provide lots of food and laughs. Friday marked our most significant day in Miami, as we debriefed our experiences with Cuban-American Jaime Suchlicki and Wabash alumnus Tim Padgett.

Jaime Shuchlicki

We met with Mr. Suchlicki at the Bacardi Center for Cuban American Studies, located at the University of Miami. Suchlicki is one of the most learned scholars when it comes to Cuban American studies, as he is Cuban born and is very close with the Cuban American population in Miami. As a group, we had an open forum with Suchlicki recapping our experiences in Cuba.

Suchlicki, a supporter of the embargo (or “the American blockade,” depending on who you ask), was very candid in his answers to our questions. He believed that the reopening of Cuba after 50+ years would not benefit Cuban society, because the influx of Americans (mostly via tourism), would not change the governmental structure of Cuba in any way. While I tend to disagree, I believe Suchlicki’s perspective was beneficial. He argued that if Americans were allowed to freely travel to Cuba (like Canadians and Europeans), they would have no significant impact on Cuban society.

Instead, Suchlicki argued, Americans would be much more interested in smoking Cohibas (Cuban cigars, which are excellent), drinking rum, and enjoying tourist destinations in Havana along the beautiful Cuban coastline. Suchlicki’s point of view, while extreme, provided us with another interesting perspective on Cuban politics.

Tim Padgett ’84

Later in the day, we met with Tim Padgett ’84, a prominent Wabash alumnus. Mr. Padgett had heaps of experience traveling to Latin America as a journalist for Time Magazine. Padgett debriefed us and allowed us to lead discussion, even jotting down our ideas on a notepad while we discussed. It was a great experience. Padgett, unlike Suchlicki, believed that the lifting of the embargo would not harm Cuba, but would help the Cuban society. He claimed that the influx of American tourists would certainly provide a necessary boost to the economy, but would also offer a catalyst to changing Cuban society as whole. Unlike European or Canadian tourists, Americans would be much more interested in exchanging ideas with the locals, mingling in all parts of Havana, not just the resorts, as Suchlicki argued.

John Decker and his classmates wait for security to admit them to the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, a heavily guarded and gated facility.

The embargo, according to Padgett, benefitted the Castro regime, as the Cuban government could always point the finger of blame at the United States. If the embargo was lifted, Raul Castro could no longer place the blame on the big bully from the north. With the United States eliminated as a scapegoat, the Cuban people would surely realize that the Castro regime, not the United States, was inherently part of the problem in Cuba. In short, our Friday in Miami provided us with two uniquely diverse perspectives. I found both talks incredibly interesting and useful for our discussions.

We were very fortunate to not only meet with Suchlicki, but also Padgett, as both men are prominent scholars on Cuba/United States relations. Personally, I believed the reopening of Cuba would be a benefit to not only the United States but also Cuba and the Cuban people. The embargo will be lifted, it’s just a matter of when.