COLUMBUS, Ohio - In a small sign that U.S. relations with Cuba may be improving, Ambassador Jorge Bolaños Suarez, head of the Cuban Interest Section in the United States, traveled to Ohio last week. It was first time in 10 years that the United States has permitted Cuba's highest ranking diplomat to travel away from the Washington D.C. area, where the Interest Section is based. Bolaños spoke on Thursday to a small audience at the Ohio State University's Mershon Center, in a talk that revisited key points of common history shared by the U.S. and Cuba, described some of Cuba's outstanding achievements, and contemplated the long-term future of relations between Cuba and the United States.
Bolaños reminded the audience of the close relationship that the U.S. and Cuba have shared over two centuries, beginning in the American Revolutionary War when a Cuban military hero fought in George Washington's army and ultimately died in Washington's home. U.S. participation in Cuba's wars of independence from Spain ultimately led to a diminution of Cuba's national sovereignty, until the victory of the revolution in January 1959 restored the nation's self-determination.
Cuba is an internationally respected nation with outstanding achievements to its credit, Bolaños said. He cited its 35,000 professionals - doctors and teachers - who are at work abroad in poorer countries where help is desperately needed. Cuba has achieved accolades for its high ranking among Latin American countries in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The international community overwhelmingly supports Cuba, as evidenced in consistent calls in the United Nations for the end of the US embargo against Cuba. Bolaños recalled that Cuba was the first foreign destination for Nelson Mandela when he was finally elected president of a free South Africa. Ambassador Bolaños was at the UN when Mandela spoke there and recognized Cuba as the leader in the international fight against apartheid.
Bolaños' discussion of U.S./Cuba relations centered on the embargo, which has both economic and moral costs to both Cuba and the United States. Bolaños reminded his audience that the original purpose behind the U.S. embargo against Cuba was to cause suffering amongst ordinary Cubans. U.S. officials hoped and expected that when Cubans were hungry and desperate, they would rebel against their government. That of course never happened, and more than 50 years later, the policy is still preventing Americans from buying Cuban products and from visiting Cuba for themselves.
Cuba is linked closely by geography, culture and history to the United States, Bolaños noted. Cuba has never been at war with the U.S. and poses no threat to U.S. security, he said, adding that Cubans hope the two countries can live in peace based on mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and self-determination.
Bolaños credited Ohio State University President Gordon Gee for organizing his visit to Ohio. He went on to speak at Youngstown State University on Friday before returning to Washington.
Photo: Jorge Bolaños Suarez. (Anita Waters/PW)