Cuba is the topic at Chamber of Commerce luncheon

Featured By Linda Trischitta, Editor Wednesday, April 19, 2023

     The Miami Lakes Chamber of Commerce hosted Cuba expert Brian Latell at its April 12 luncheon.

     “I’m very excited,” President Fred Senra said. “We’ve haven’t had a spy here before.”

     Many chamber members are of Cuban heritage and were attentive to what Dr. Latell -- a historian, retired CIA analyst, government advisor, educator and author of books on the country and its leaders -- had to say in a ballroom at the Miami Lakes Hotel on Main.

     For the business owners and professionals and town Councilman Josh Dieguez who were in attendance, Latell told them the prospect of investing in the country is currently bleak.

     He reviewed the dictatorships of the Castro brothers and efforts by former President Raul Castro to grow private enterprise and open diplomatic relations with the U.S. under President Barack Obama.

     Obama’s successor tightened the embargo, it remains so and “hardliners are back in control,” Latell said of Cuba’s officials and its current leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

     Latell said Diaz-Canel looked “weak” in 2021 when “nearly the entire island” protested against the regime, “demanding freedom and change.” 

     Cubans have cellphones and chat groups and could coordinate the resistance that stunned the government but led to a crackdown and an unknown number of people imprisoned, Latell said.

     The “Havana Syndrome” attacks upon American diplomats and CIA agents who suffered health problems from unknown causes is “unfinished business as far as I’m concerned,” he said.  “My suspicion is that yes, those attacks on the Americans, especially the CIA officers in Havana, that those were part of a reaction by the hardliners ...” who had supported the late Fidel Castro’s policies.  "I think their motive was to do what they could to disrupt, to break the good feelings established after Obama’s visit."

     Cuba is struggling, he said. Young adults are fleeing the country, the population is aging and the infrastructure – fuel and electric power, highway, sewer and water systems – is in disrepair. 

     Also, a country once known for its agriculture buys most of its food and sugar from other nations, he said.

     Though there is a stalemate between Cuba and the U.S., Latell said, “What can we all hope for? Many of you are young enough to think that you’ll be alive … when a new Cuba emerges from ashes of the 60 years of this dictatorship. …well, don’t pack your bags yet. It’s going to be a while.”

     A wedge could develop between Cuban officials. 

     “It’s only natural to want to assume that there are real tensions between the hardliners and other Cubans in the leadership who would like to open up the economy to market forces.”  Raul Castro tried that, and allowed small businesses to operate and let people buy and sell real estate and autos, Latell said. Castro had also sought foreign investment.

     Fidel Castro didn’t approve and rejected normalization of relations with America.

     But Raul outlived Fidel,  and the younger brother ran the military for nearly half a century, Latell said. 

     “One day, I hope in my lifetime, I would love to see the closure,” he said. “I’m optimistic that it will happen in due course.”