U.S.–Cuba Relations on the Table at RU-N Panel Discussion

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On December 17, 2014, President Obama announced the implementation of a series of new policy measures to “chart a new course on Cuba,” marking a radical departure from long-standing U.S. policies towards the island nation just 90 miles off the coast of Florida. Washington’s shift presents a new set of challenges and opportunities for U.S.-Cuba relations and is likely to have a lasting impact on key sectors of the Cuban economy such as agriculture, international trade, investment, migration, self-employment, and travel and tourism.

Professor Carlos Seiglie, chairperson of the Economics department at Rutgers University–Newark, in conjunction with the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE), is hosting a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, June 3, at the RU-N School of Law. Sieglie, who specializes in applied, defense and international economics, is a Cuban-American with deep knowledge of his country of origin and is president of ASCE. He’ll bring together a group of seven academic and non-academic experts who will analyze and discuss the implications of these policy measures on U.S-Cuba relations and on key sectors of the Cuban economy.

Participants include two faculty from the University of Havana: Armando Nova González, who has conducted more than 84 research studies on the Cuban economy, and Lázaro Peña, whose work focuses on the Cuban sugar industry and its relationship to world markets. Other panelists include Professor Ted Henken, who has studied Cuban reform policies toward small private enterprise under President Raúl Castro and U.S. efforts to empower the Cuban entrepreneurial class, along with Ernesto Hernández-Catá, who spent most of his career at the International Monetary Fund and has written extensively on transition problems in the former Soviet Union, along with the U.S., Mexican and Cuban economies.  

We sat down with Seiglie to discuss the roundtable and issues that will be addressed by the panel.

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You were born in Cuba. When did you arrive in the U.S. and under what circumstances?
My father came first in 1960, followed by my mom and I in 1961. I was 4 years old. We came from Remedios, Cuba, a small town in the north-central part of the island established around 1520, where many folks made their living through agriculture. My dad was a lawyer who had studied with Fidel Castro at the University of Havana and defended people who were being sent to the firing squad after Fidel came to power. That's why he, and then his family, left the island abruptly.

Why did you put this panel together and what do you hope to achieve with it?
The U.S. President has engaged Cuba. Rutgers University–Newark, therefore, should begin to engage academics from the U.S. and Cuba in the hopes of fostering communication and cultural exchanges between the two countries—and with the University of Havana. U.S. businesses also have a strong interest in Cuba. So, among the many topics we'll touch on, we'll discuss how to make the state of New Jersey and local community aware of the potential rewards and risks of investing in Cuba. There already are NJ businesses that are doing so.

What immediate impacts will the U.S. policy shift have on U.S.-Cuba relations?
The immediate impact will be reestablishing embassies in both countries. This should also help the United States negotiations with Cuba on permitting the embassy staff to travel outside their current restricted area to other parts of the country.

Just a few days ago, the United States removed Cuba from its list of official terrorist states. How will this change relations between the two countries?
The removal of Cuba from the terrorist list will have a real impact in that the cost for the two countries to engage in financial transactions will drop dramatically. This will open transactions between Cuban and American financial institutions fairly quickly.

Can we expect the U.S. policy shift to have immediate impacts on the Cuban economy?
I think the impacts on Cuba’s economy will be minimal at first. And there are a number of key things Cuba needs to do in order to even begin creating real change. First, Cuba must privatize state-owned farms: They need to start eliminating agricultural cooperatives and transfer them to private individuals. Non-agricultural cooperatives should be privatized as well. And Cuba needs to establish of private-property rights. Once they do that, they should then move quickly to establish a free-market economy. Without these things, Cuba’s economy will not develop.

Thank you for sitting down with us.
It was my pleasure.

The U.S-Cuba Rountable will take place 2-4pm on Wednesday, July 3, at the Baker Trial Courtroom,
Rutgers University-Newark School of Law, 123 Washington Street, Newark, NJ 07102.

Please visit here for details on the panel and participants.
For additional questions, call the RU-N Department of Economics at 973-353-5259.