As the Cuban Revolution turns 60 this year, the Caribbean island country’s government, economy, and international relations are undergoing some of their most profound changes in decades.
A new president, the first without the Castro name since the revolution, took over in 2018. Constitutional reforms this year have shifted the country’s internal political climate. And the re-opening of relations between Cuba and the United States under U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015 — heralded at the time as the start of a new era of cooperation between the countries — has since been disrupted in significant ways by his successor, Donald Trump.
It’s against this backdrop of historic change that some of the world’s leading experts on Cuba gather at Dalhousie next week to take stock of the decades-old revolution and its continued impacts.
“We thought this was a good time to bring together Cubans, American, Canadians, Latin Americans and Europeans,” says Dal professor John Kirk, a leading Cuba expert who helped organize the conference along with a volunteer committee of 15 Dal students, staff and the general public.
The personal and the political
The three-day symposium (October 31-November 2), which is free and open to the public, will shed light on a number of compelling issues through talks and panel sessions with Cuba scholars, policy-makers and policy analysts.
Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the U.S.’s first head of mission in Cuba following the reestablishment of relations, will offer his personal reflections on what it was like to be part of those negotiations, as will Josefina Vidal — Cuba’s current ambassador to Canada and former chief negotiator with the United States.
“They will speak about what it was like when the United States and Cuba finally realized they needed a plan B after five decades of hostility,” says Dr. Kirk.
On Friday, Dalhousie’s own Alon Friedman of the Brain Repair Centre will present findings from a multidisciplinary investigation he led into the so-called ‘Havana Syndrome’ for Global Affairs Canada. Dr. Friedman brought 25 Canadian diplomats and their families to campus for a series of tests to help determine the cause of the mysterious ailment, which also impacted some U.S. diplomats in the country.
Funded primarily by the Ford Foundation in the United States, with assistance from a SSHRC conference grant, The Cuban Revolution at 60 provides a space for Cuba experts to meet outside the U.S. where the foundation's annual conference typically takes place.
“What they wanted to do was offer a venue for Cuban scholars to meet American, Canadian, European and Latin American because it’s so difficult in the United States,” says Dr. Kirk. “It was a nice gesture on their part.”
Dr. Kirk says holding the conference here in Nova Scotia and Halifax makes sense for a number of reasons, namely the region’s long history with the country. He notes that Cuba’s first Canadian consulate was in Yarmouth, that former Nova Scotia premier John Savage was the first premier in Canada to take a trade delegation to the country, and that more than 700 Dal students have gone to Cuba through the university International Development Studies program.
“There are many historical ties that bring us together,” he says.
More than 200 people have pre-registered for the conference, which will also feature panels on climate change’s impacts on the island and other issues related to race gender (in)equity, health and sexual diversity.
For more information or to pre-register, visit http://www.cuba60.ca/
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