The Villena room was too small for the audience, which endured sweltering heat during the two hours of the presentation of the book “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.”
The free event, at the headquarters of the Cuban Artists and Writers Union (UNEAC), had raised such high expectations in the academic world and in public opinion that almost two hundred people gathered his Monday at 4:00 in the afternoon to meet the authors of a book that has been presented outside of Cuba as “revelatory.”
Researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande had to face being accosted by the press before entering the room where they were awaited by figures as diverse as Ministry of the Interior agent Fernando González – imprisoned in the United States for 15 years – and the Cuban-American businessman Max Lesnick.
“We have been working on the book for ten years, and it has come out at at the most important moment in the relations between the two countries,” Kornbluh told 14ymedio. He listed some elements to support his claim, such as “Obama, as president, is not seeking re-election, Hillary Clinton has made statements that the embargo should be lifted…”
The occasion was also utilized to present the book of Cuban researchers Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales, From Confrontation to Attempts at ‘Normalization, United States Policy Toward Cuba. The quotation marks in the title are, in the words of Ramirez, because relations between the two countries “have never been normal.” The meeting’s moderator, Ramon Sanchez Parodi – former head of the Cuba Interests Section in Washington – presented the Cuban book to complement the American one.
Some copies of Ramirez’s and Morales’ book were sold at the event. Not so with that of Kornbluh and LeoGrande. These latter commented to the national press, at the end of the event, that they hope to release a Spanish edition, “so that Cubans can read it.”
The Americans made their presentation without following a script, while Cubans read their statements, which sounded more like an apology for the decisions taken by Cuba throughout the conflict with the USA.
Among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana
At the invitation of American researchers, among the audience was Lynn Roche, head of the Press and Culture Office of the United States Interest Section in Havana. In statements to this newspaper, Roche described the conference as an opportunity to talk about one part of the recent history of Cuba and the US, and to address certain “practical points.” She has also been interested in “knowing more about the internal debate that is occurring in the United States on the subject of Cuba,” that Back Channel has undoubtedly contributed to.
The presentation of the book, which includes declassified US documents, occurs in a particular context. The Cuban government is reinforcing the anti-embargo campaign, both within and outside the Island, in view of the next United Nations vote that will be held on the question. On the other hand, in Florida the embargo is a hot topic of discussion in local elections. But Kornbluh assured 14ymedio that this latter has “no relation” to their presence in Havana and to the stir caused by their work. In any event, according to him, an important share of South Florida voters are Cubans who desire a “normalization” of ties between both countries.
Bilateral relations between the USA and Cuba cannot avoid the fundamental issue which Back Channel seems to ignore: human rights. What does Peter Kornbluh think about that? “The United States will always be talking about human rights in Cuba,” he says, in an accusatory tone, implying that this will remain a thorny issue between the two governments.