Cuba scholar Richard Gioioso, Ph.D., assistant professor of political science at Saint Joseph's University, comments on the historic 'normalization' of U.S.-Cuba relations. An expert in Cuban migration and Cuban youth, whom Gioioso says are "expressly apolitical," his research suggests that "while many Cuban young people would like to see some sort of political change in their country...they are most concerned over a change in policies that open up economic opportunities for them. These policies include greater private property and market-based activities, as well as an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba and the potential that re-engagement holds for both countries."
Gioioso recently took a group of Saint Joseph's students to Cuba on a study tour. His comments about the policy shift appear in full appear below.
"President Obama's announcement of recent changes to U.S. foreign policy toward Cuba through presidential authority is a step in the right direction. After more than five decades of severed formal diplomatic ties and the American embargo, the two countries can now interact more freely, with the hope that increased exchange will promote positive political change toward a more democratic style of government as well as economic growth on the island that will benefit the Cuban people and American business interests. Many people have been advocating for moves toward a normalization between the two governments, which reflects the overall attitudes of both the Cuban and U.S. populations.
Nevertheless, there is a division of opinion within the United States, especially within the Cuban-American community, located primarily in South Florida. In my view, this is based on the fundamental division between those who came as political exiles and those in more recent years who are better classified as economic migrants. Whereas Cubans tended to flee the island for political and social persecution during the first decades after the Cuban Revolution in 1959, since the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the subsequent end of Soviet subsidization of the Cuban economy and its resultant collapse, a different kind of Cuban migrant emerged: one that was fleeing in search of economic survival.
As far as political freedoms and rights are concerned, Cuba continues to be a one-party state that exercises a considerable amount of control over its population. Explicit political persecution is notably less today than in years passed, and many young Cubans - a sizable portion of the population (almost 40% are under the age of 30 years old) - are expressly apolitical. While most young Cubans have limited access to the internet, the level of penetration of American culture - music, movies, television shows, aspirations and expectations - is very high. Cuba, in short, is part of a globalized world.
My own research suggests that while many Cuban young people would like to see some sort of political change in their country, it is not their primary concern. Instead, they are most concerned over a change in policies that open up economic opportunities for them; these policies include greater private property and market-based activities, as well as an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba and the potential that re-engagement holds for both countries.
There will certainly be significant controversy over President Obama's action from a number of different angles, notable individuals, and interest groups in the United States. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that this move will facilitate real change, both within Cuba and between the countries in the future."
Gioioso, who speaks fluent Spanish, can be reached for comment at [email protected], or by calling 610-660-1750, or 610-660-3240.