Sitting in Blankley Alumni House, Pam Martin-Molina ’73,’03M recalls the first time she saw Fidel Castro on television, punctuating statements with a dramatic wag of his finger. A young girl at the time, she was immediately fascinated by the charismatic leader and curious about Cuba.
Now Martin-Molina is helping to open up relations between the United States and its neighbor. In addition to starting Molimar Export Consultants Inc., a business assisting American companies export goods to Cuba, she has been integral in establishing an academic collaboration between Arcadia University and the University of Havana.
Path to Peace and Conflict Resolution
In 1999, Martin-Molina finally got her opportunity to travel to Cuba. She traveled to the island as part of a licensed trip organized by the White Dog Café in Philadelphia to explore the Cuban food system. “As I was there for a week, I started to learn how far the embargo reached and what kind of damage it was doing,” says Martin-Molina. “So I decided that when I came home I was going to try to find a way to help end it.”
When she returned to the United States, Martin-Molina contacted the Cuban Interests Section in Washington D.C. to find out what she could do to help end the United States embargo against Cuba. Around the same time, she received a postcard from Arcadia about its International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program.
Realizing that the program was the perfect combination of many of her interests—international law, peace studies, and conflict resolution—she set out to pursue her master's degree with a focus on U.S.-Cuba policy.
“This gave me the ability—because there were only twelve categories of licenses at that time—to travel to Cuba legally,” she explains. “As a graduate student, I traveled there for United Nations conferences and had the opportunity to meet [and interview] the Ambassador for the Cuban Mission to the United Nations.”
After the interview with the ambassador, Martin-Molina recognized that much of the work needed to be done in U.S. government offices. “The Ambassador to the Cuban Mission to the U.N. said that the problem was that we only interviewed Cuban government officials about the issues of U.S.-Cuba policy, and never spoke to our own U.S. officials. I took this as a challenge and made my first call to the State Department.
“This was a huge turning point in my quest to understand both sides of the issue. It opened my eyes up to how unnecessary and unjust this embargo is and spurred me on to continue working as a citizen diplomat to right this wrong.”
Connecting Faculty and Students on Both Side of the Embargo
Over the past 10 years, Martin-Molina and Dr. Warren Haffar, Dean of International Affairs and Director of International Peace and Conflict Resolution, met periodically to discuss setting up an academic program in Cuba. Their patience and hard work has created new opportunities for academic collaboration and learning experiences between American faculty and students and their Cuban counterparts.
“I felt that especially with the peace and conflict aspect, it would be extremely important to get U.S. students down to Cuba to learn more about the embargo, about Cuba in general, and then hopefully work with their Cuban colleagues and counterparts to find new and informed ways to work with both governments to ease and finally end the embargo.”
However, she says under the Bush Administration, “[It] was virtually impossible, as students would have to study for a full 10-week semester, and could only be sent under the auspices of their own university.”
The Obama Administration opened up more avenues for students and academics to travel to Cuba, and Martin-Molina seized the opportunity. She successfully leveraged her contacts in both governments and at the University of Havana’s Center for Hemispheric and U.S. Studies (Centro de Estudios Hemisfericos y sobre Estados Unidos) to facilitate a series of educational trips to Cuba.
Though she has been successful connecting students and faculty from Arcadia and Cuba, Martin-Molina still faces difficulties in the arduous task of easing the United States' embargo against Cuba. “Certainly the Obama Administration has opened things up further,” she explains, “but it can be somewhat of a ‘one step forward, two steps back’ process at times too.”
However, it is evident that Martin-Molina’s rolodex of contacts will continue to prove crucial in bringing the two countries together.