On May 16, together with 14 students from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, I had the privilege of attending a concert of the Minnesota Orchestra at the National Theater in Havana, Cuba. The event was a wonderful affirmation of the decision announced last December by Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama to seek better relations between the two countries as reflected in the response to our state’s orchestra by the overwhelmingly Cuban audience that filled the theater.
The concert was marked by several standing ovations, including the validation of Osmo Vänskä’s having begun the concert with a spirited rendition of the Cuban national anthem. It was a sophisticated audience that is regularly treated to high quality classical music by the Cuban National Symphony and other visiting international orchestras, but conversations with many in the crowd revealed that they understood the importance of this visit by a major U.S. orchestra at the time of potential great change in U.S.-Cuban relations.
Throughout my 10 days on the island I spoke with Cubans of all walks of life who expressed optimism that the more than 50-year U.S. economic blockade and embargo of the island can end soon. However, their hopes may be overly optimistic as a potentially long battle may ensue in the U.S. Congress. There is likely bipartisan majority support for ending the embargo, but the Republican leadership at this point seems committed to preventing a vote that would end the embargo. Ending the embargo will likely require a grass-roots political campaign to end a U.S. policy that has only harmed the people of both countries.
Gary Prevost is a professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University. He is the co-author of “United States-Cuban Relations — A Critical History.”
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