Historical and Political Studies Faculty: What’s Next for Cuba?

By JoLynne Bremmer | August 7, 2012

Drs. Warren Haffar, Christopher Brown, and Jennifer Riggan of the Department of Historical and Political Studies traveled to Cuba in June for Arcadia University’s inaugural Global Faculty Development Workshop. They spent six days connecting with University of Havana faculty, exploring Cuban culture and considering the relationship between the island nation and the United States.

Speaking with Dr. John Noakes upon their return, the trio discussed, among other things, the potential effects of a more relaxed embargo on Cuba’s economy—particularly the tourism industry—and national identity.

“[Cubans] talk about social justice and equality as really vital and vibrant and important social values,” says Riggan. “[T]here’s also a really palpable anxiety about when Cuba opens more—which does seem inevitable in everyone’s mind, that that will eventually happen—that that will erode these revolutionary values and social justice and equality.”

Brown, who specializes in comparative democratization, says opinions about Cuba’s transition varied among the scholars with whom he spoke. But he noticed a consistent refrain that the outcome of the presidential election in the U.S. will have a major impact on the tone of negotiations. “There’s a lot of hope, and there’s also a lot of concern,” he says.

Interview Highlights

Tourism and the Planned Economy

“The economy in Cuba is such that it will respond to [an increase in tourism]. Between the time I first went—I think it was in January—and this trip, we already saw differences in the number of buildings that were being renovated and painted…. The interesting thing from the city and regional planning view is that you’re trying to address those market demands of tourism from a centralized model. So you’ve got someone in a ministry somewhere that is trying to decide which buildings would be renovated and in what order. That’s something that’s going to have to change, I think.”

– Dr. Warren Haffar

Cuba’s Place in the World

“We got a nice sense of Cuba-U.S. relations, and that’s the way we as Americans are accustomed to looking at it, but that’s not the full picture. There’s a bigger picture of engagement and involvement between Cuba and Europe and Cuba and Asia, and all other kinds of affinities Cuba has as well. So yes, the blockade/embargo is a really key issue, but it’s certainly not the only issue involved, and Cuba is certainly a place that is already changing.”

– Dr. Jennifer Riggan

Advertising Revolution

“I was really paying attention to the slogans on the walls and was really fascinated by how many political slogans were on billboards and on walls…but it’s everywhere. One of the first things that you notice is that there is no commercial advertising for products, or almost none, in Cuba. What there is is a lot of political advertising. So sort of ‘country or death’ and ‘long live the revolution’ and a lot of other sort of much more specific things about the revolution. A lot of those are obviously put up by the government, but some of them aren’t. Some of them are sort of graffiti that is just scrawled on the walls.”

– Dr. Jennifer Riggan