What will it take to normalize US-Cuban relations?

Cuban first secretary Miguel Fraga, speaks during the Cuba-US Relations event in the Renaissance Park Building at Northeastern University on Tuesday. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

A majority of U.S. and Cuban citizens support lifting the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba, making now the right time to restore normal relations between the two countries, Miguel Fraga, first secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Cuba, said at Northeastern on Tuesday.

In his lecture, Fraga cited poll after poll showing that the majority of Americans—and especially Cuban-Americans in Miami—support lifting the U.S. finance and travel embargo of Cuba. Students, faculty, and staff attended the event, which was held at Renaissance Park and hosted by the Center for International Affairs and World Cultures.

“We have opportunities on both sides to benefit from restoring normal relations,” Fraga said. “Why aren’t we doing it?”

Cuban first secretary Miguel Fraga, speaks during the Cuba-US Relations event in the Renaissance Park Building on Tuesday. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Fraga posited that perhaps a simple lack of knowledge among U.S. citizens of Cuban culture and politics, particularly of its history over the past 50 years, is stalling that restoration.

“What do you know about Cuba?” he asked the audience. “Cigars? Rum? Fidel Castro? Cuba is more than that.”

Fraga highlighted several World Bank data points for the country, including its $87 billion GDP; its existing diplomatic relations with 191 of 193 United Nations member states; and its post-disaster foreign outreach, such as the deployment of hundreds of medical professionals to West Africa during the height of the Ebola crisis.

“These are the things you don’t read in the media every day,” Fraga said. “The problem is the embargo, and we need Congress to change that, otherwise the president can just undo everything the past administration has done.”

President Barack Obama took steps to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations and in 2016 became the first sitting president to visit the country in nearly nine decades. But the nearly 60-year-old commercial and travel embargo on Cuba is still in place, and it’s not yet clear what President Donald J. Trump’s stance will be regarding U.S.-Cuban relations.

Nevertheless, Fraga said, positive change appears to be gaining momentum. In addition to the growing numbers of Cubans and Americans who support normalizing relations between the two countries, Cuba also signed 22 bilateral diplomatic agreements in the past two years, he said. Two House bills in Congress would also take significant steps toward repairing relations, should they be approved.

“Those who want to cut the relations belong in the past,” Fraga said. “Those who want to build relations belong in today.”

Northeastern is already building strong relations with the country. In February, University President Joseph E. Aoun signed an agreement with the University of Havana that represents the most comprehensive academic initiative by an American institution in Cuba. The agreement—and the solid partnership it reflects—has paved the way for deep collaboration on research opportunities and created an opportunity for two Northeastern students to become the first in the world to do co-op in Cuba. Further, the collaboration has strong support from local Congressmen.