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Catawba’s reaction to normalizing relations with Cuba

By Susan Shinn

For The Salisbury Post

Two Catawba College professors agree that President Obama’s announcement to normalize relations with Cuba is a good one.

I am a leftist, and I think it’s about time,” Dr. Gary Freeze said Friday. He is a professor of history at the college. “This is a failed policy. I’m a firm believer that prosperity lifts all boats. Trade with Cuba will lead to reform in Cuba.”

Freeze noted that the president has moved in the tradition of “pragmatic diplomacy.”

He said that the move was welcomed in South America, at a time when the U.S. needs as many friends as it can get in the war or terror.

Communism is a European doctrine against which America has always fought, Freeze said. “The president wants the old idea of Communism out of this hemisphere. He’s following a viable tradition.”

Worldwide, Freeze said, the old vestiges of patriarchal rule are under assault. “Fidel Castro was a Communist, but he was also an old-style dictator. Raul Castro represents a transitional form of government that is eroding.”

Under the embargo, Freeze said, Cuba became a successful Communist state — to a point. “What do you do to survive? You impose Communism.”

Dr. Sanford Silverburg agrees with Freeze that Obama’s announcement was a good decision. Silverburg is professor emeritus of political science at Catawba, where he taught from 1970 to 2011.

This was a mature and sensible diplomatic action to take,” Silverburg said Saturday. “It is in our interest to open up a relationship with them. The closer relationship will lead to a greater democratic influence.”

Opposition to the decision is split among generational lines, Silverburg said. Younger Cubans, he said, have no animosity toward government. “They want to be part of a new Cuba.”

National media is reporting that secret talks between the United States and Cuba — with involvement from Pope Francis — took place for 18 months before Obama made the announcement at midday Wednesday. Silverburg said that although politicians do everything for political reasons, he is nevertheless supportive of the action.

Silverburg was in school in Mexico in 1959 when he heard an invasion of Cuba was imminent.

The Cubans had a lot to fear from Americans,” he said.

He was in the military during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which took place over 13 days in October 1962.

It was a very scary period,” said Silverburg, who taught about the crisis during his career. “We called it an embargo, because calling it a blockade was an act of war. We created our own definition. We objected to the Soviets placing missiles in Cuba, while we had missiles in Turkey pointed at the Soviet Union. I recognized clearly it was a dangerous situation that could blow up at any time. Many people don’t appreciate how serious it was. It was a very serious condition that could have led to outright war.”

When it was over, both sides had claimed victory.

Now, Silverburg sees Cuba as a land ripe for investment. “There will be the Bacardi family returning to restart their business, there will be cigars sold, and tourism, and importation of automobiles — a whole host of business investment in Cuba. It’s a readymade marketplace and it’s a 30-minute flight from Miami.”

Silverburg predicts a moderation of Communism, and less centralized government control.

It’s a big step,” he says.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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