Sparks Fly At Panel

Audience Heckles Cuban Experts

A panel on U.S.-Cuba relations yesterday was marked by audience heckling and tense exchanges on Cuba's economic state and human rights record.

The Starr Auditorium panel, sponsored by the Harvard Forum on Hispanic Affairs, drew approximately 125 spectators.

Participants first grappled over the causes of Cuba's grim economic situation. Cuba's woes are "not the result of United States policy," said Richard A. Nuccio of the State Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. "[They are] the result of Cuban policies."

Nuccio criticized the economic policies of Fidel Castro's communist state,where "virtually no private enterprise' or privateownership of property is permitted.

Francisco J. Hernandez, president of theCuban-American National Foundation, also chastisedthe Cuban government's fiscal policies.

Hernandez blamed Cuba's ills on a system that"inhibits production to the extent that the peoplecannot be fed or clothed."


Other panelists pinned blame for the country'seconomic woes on the U.S. embargo, speaking overshouts of opposition and loud coughing from theaudience.

By enforcing the embargo, "we're makingconditions worse and not better," said Susan E.Eckstein, a sociology professor at BostonUniversity.

Instead, Eckstein said, the U.S. shouldencourage "a smooth and peaceful transition todemocracy" while trying to "preserve the gains ofthe revolution" in public health and socialwelfare.

At one point, an man in the audienceinterrupted Eckstein, shouting, "You'd betterwatch yourself."

Noting the recent United Nations votecondemning the embargo, Philip J. Brenner, aprofessor of international relations at TheAmerican University, said, "This is notleadership. This [the embargo] is going off in amaniacal way."

The embargo also makes it politically difficultfor other Latin American nations to signagreements with the U.S., Brenner said.

Hernandez, a native Cuban, decreid "35 years ofinjustice, repression, and destruction" in hishomeland. But other panelists defended Cuba'shuman rights record.

"Cuba's not great, but neither are many of thecountries we deal with," Brenner said, namingChina, Guatemala, Saudi Arabia, and El Salvador.

Audience members coughed loudly and jeered inresponse to Brenner's statement.

Eckstein said U.S. policy should focus onmaking Cuba's transition to democracy a bloodlessone. "There are no organized politicalorganizations...on which democracy can build,"Eckstein said. "If we want a peaceful transition,[Castro] is our best hope."

But Nuccio defended the Clintonadministration's policy of maintaining the embargowhile permitting private donations of humanitarianaid.

The U.S. mission, Nuccio said, should be "tolessen the political and economic burdens placedon [Cubans] by a failed regime" whilesimultaneously increasing the nation's diplomaticisolation

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