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American University Experts Comment on U.S.-Cuba Relations

WHO: American University experts

WHAT:  American University experts are available for comments regarding the historic visit by President Barack Obama to Cuba

WHEN:  March 18 - ongoing

WHERE: In–studio, on campus, via email or via telephone

Background: AU international affairs and political science experts are available to discuss the upcoming visit by President Barack Obama to Cuba. In July 2015, Cuba and the United States restored diplomatic relations, which had been severed in 1961.

On March 15, 2016, less than one week before the President’s departure for Havana, the Obama administration announced significant amendments to the long-existing sanctions, including the abolition of the decades-old requirement that American visitors to Cuba travel in groups for educational, cultural, journalistic, athletic, humanitarian or religious purposes, and other listed categories.

Foreign Affairs, U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S.-Cuba Relations

Philip Brenner is professor of international relations in American University’s School of International Service, director of the graduate program in U.S. foreign policy and national security, and affiliate professor of history. A specialist in U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, he has been engaged in research and writing about Cuba and U.S.-Cuban relations since 1974. His latest book is A Contemporary Cuba Reader: Reinventing the Revolution (2014), which he co-edited with William LeoGrande. Brenner is completing a book on the history of Cuba: Cuba Libre: A 500-Year Quest for Sovereignty. He has personally interviewed Fidel Castro on three occasions.

Prof. Brenner says: “President Obama has learned the key lesson from previous failed attempts to develop a rapprochement with Cuba. Too much can go wrong too easily, and so it is essential to make irreversible any progress toward better relations.”

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, assistant professor in American University’s School of International Service, teaches and researches agricultural policy and agrarian politics. A critical geographer, she draws upon political ecology and postcolonial studies in current research on agricultural biodiversity conservation, agrarian cooperatives, and domestic and global impacts of U.S. farm policies. This includes community-based participatory action research with grassroots groups on Farm Bill reform as well as ongoing research on Cuba-U.S. agricultural relations.

Prof. Graddy says: “Geopolitical rapprochement is to be commended, but must be expanded to include a long-overdue repeal of the embargo itself. Meanwhile, trade and travel openings need to pro-actively support--and not thwart--Cuba's impressive agroecology, urban agriculture, and agrarian cooperatives. The country currently faces high domestic food prices and low productivity, but has the expertise and potential to produce nutritious, sustainable food for its population and tourists, and even export organic products to the U.S. It needs equitable investments for infrastructure, domestic reforms, and an end to the blockade to fulfill this potential.”

William M. LeoGrande is a professor of government in American University's School of Public Affairs who has written widely in the field of Latin American politics and U.S. foreign policy, with a particular emphasis on Cuba. He is a renowned expert onCuban politics and U.S.-Cuban relations. LeoGrande is coeditor of both TheContemporary Cuba Reader: The Revolution under Raúl Castroand of Political Parties and Democracy in Central America. He is also the coauthor of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana and author of Our Own Backyard: The United States in Central America, 1977 to 1992. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Latin American Research Review, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Newsweek, Le Monde and other journals and newspapers.

Prof. LeoGrande says: “President Obama's trip to Cuba demonstrates that both he and President Castro want to make improving relations a priority in the coming year, and to make the new U.S. policy toward Cuba irreversible. The visit will accelerate progress on a range of issues that the two governments are currently discussing, lead to more agreements on issues of mutual interest, and reduce obstacles on both sides that are limiting commercial ties. It will be remembered as an historic event, just like President Richard Nixon's trip to China in 1972. Like Nixon's trip, it is a dramatic symbol of the fundamental change in U.S. policy away from an isolation and hostility to a policy of engagement and normal relations.”  

Center for Latin American and Latino Studies

Eric Hershberg, director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies and professor of government at American University, focuses on the comparative politics of Latin America, and on the politics of development. His current research project is analyzing the state of democracy in South America, social sector reforms in the Andean region and conflicts over accountability for human rights abuses under military regimes in the Southern Cone countries. He is also the former president of the Latin American Studies Association.

Hershberg says: “President Obama's historic trip to Cuba can consolidate the important diplomatic advances achieved over the past 15 months, which have removed many of the barriers that limited U.S. citizen efforts to engage with Cuba and offered promising opportunities for the island's economic development. The long overdue opening to Cuba represents one more step on the road toward full normalization of bilateral ties.”

Fulton Armstrong is a senior fellow at American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS). He directs the Center’s blog, AULABLOG; contributes to the Cuba Initiative and to an in-depth examination of security programs in Central America. Before joining the Center, he followed Latin American affairs for almost 30 years in a number of U.S. government positions. He served as a senior professional staff member responsible for Latin America on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from July 2008 to October 2011, and was the U.S. Intelligence Community’s most senior analyst for Latin American from 2000-2004. He also served two terms as the Director for Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council.

Armstrong says: “President Obama’s visit to Cuba is the culmination of the Administration’s successful yearlong efforts to launch the normalization process. Now it is time for the U.S. Congress, the business community, and the vast array of other non-governmental actors to step up and build a relationship with Cuba that will serve both countries’ interests into the 21st century.”

To arrange an interview with one of these experts, contact AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or .


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