Youngstown State University’s global education program, in conjunction with the visiting diplomat series and the Dr. James Dale Ethics Center, sponsored a lecture by Cuban Ambassador Jorge Bolanos on Friday.
Bolanos has served as chief of the Cuban Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Washington since 2007.
On this his first tour of the United States, Bolanos spent several days in Columbus visiting with Ohio’s Lt. Governor, the mayor of Columbus and Ohio State University’s president, before traveling to Youngstown.
The ambassador spoke to a group of YSU political science students on Friday morning and was scheduled to give a lecture on U.S.-Cuba relations, but was called to Washington before he was able to present his lecture.
Rodney Gonzales, 3rd Secretary of the Cuban Interests Section and member of the ambassador’s staff spoke in his absence.
Gonzales characterized himself as a member of the new generation of Cuban diplomats and as new revolutionaries delivering Cuba’s message to the United States and the world.
He provided a Cuban perspective on the strained relationship between the United States and Cuba.
The embargo against Cuba by United States economic sanctions began during the Kennedy administration after Cuba nationalized various U.S. properties and corporations operating on the island.
The embargo was further codified into law with the passage of the Cuban Democracy Act in 1992, which prohibited foreign subsidiaries of U.S. corporations from trading with Cuba and blocked all travel to the island by U.S. citizens.
Four years later, congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which placed even tighter restrictions on U.S. citizens conducting business in Cuba.
Gonzales said that hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue for both countries have been lost to the lack of trade between Cuba and the United States.
He said he believes that millions of Americans would visit Cuba if the embargo was lifted, providing thousands of new jobs for the Cuban people.
“Then there are the cultural costs of the embargo,” Gonzales said. “Both of us are losing here,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales highlighted Cuba’s long program of international relations, explaining that the United States is virtually the only nation that Cuba has a problem dealing with.
Cuba has diplomatic relations with 187 other countries, he said.
“Thirty six countries around the world receive aid in some form from Cuba, [and] 187 out of 192 countries in the United Nations voted against the U.S. embargo. This is an issue that touches peoples’ hearts. We ask ‘what has it been good for,'” he said.
But Gonzales contends that the Cuban people do not harbor any ill will toward the American people because of the embargo.
“If there is a respectful dialogue between us, we can be good neighbors,” Gonzales said.
After answering several questions from students and faculty, the secretary was immediately and aggressively approached by a camera crew from TV Marti, a television station based in Miami, Florida.
The secretary refused to speak with the interviewer before members of YSU’s political science department asked Youngstown Police to remove the camera crew from the room.