Cuba Expert Speaks At Eldredge Library

By: Kira Barrett

A street in Cuba. COURTESY PHOTO

CHATHAM – On Wednesday, Aug. 23 at 10:30 a.m. Dr. Ted Henken will give a talk at the Eldredge Public Library about the long-fraught relationship between the U.S. and Cuba.

“The main areas that I focus on are economic reforms and the emerging micro enterprises in the private sector,” Henken said.

Specifically, Henken will explain how an increased access to the internet has affected Cuba’s economy. “Cuba is the country with the least access to the internet in the Western Hemisphere,” Henken remarked. “In the last five years there’s been a relatively fast growth of the internet, which has enabled growth to occur in the country.”

This has greatly benefited certain Cubans in their work. Journalists, for example, who are not employed by the government and instead either work for themselves or for a newspaper or magazine, are now able to create a digital platform for their work.

Henken, an associate professor of sociology and Latin American studies at Baruch College, City University of New York who worked as an informal consultant regarding U.S. Cuban relations to the Obama administration, will also be discussing recent developments regarding the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Although President Obama restored diplomatic relations with Cuba and made significant progress with economic relations, President Trump announced in June that he plans to roll back some of those policies.

Under Trump’s new policy, individuals will no longer be able to travel to Cuba alone. “They will have to go through a tour operator and organize a group tour,” Henken said, adding that group tours are more expensive and harder to organize. Because of this, there will be far fewer qualified passengers and there will be an overall dip in the number of flights traveling from the U.S. to Cuba. Travel via cruise ships will not be affected, as they are organized and allowed under educational exchange.

Trump and Marco Rubio have previously stated that they want to continue helping the private sector. “But if you eliminate people going by themselves, that will eliminate the private sector,” Henken explained.

However, Henken warned that not everything Trump says should be taken literally. “Sometimes in politics what you say is more important than what you do,” Henken said. “You have to understand Trump’s policies in a lot of things that way.”

Henken also explained that President Trump’s remarks should be taken in context. Trump announced his new Cuban policy in Miami to a largely Cuban-American audience. “He was telling them what they wanted,” Henken said. “The policy changes are relatively small compared to the rhetoric that was fiery and aggressive.”

As of now, most of what Obama did is still in effect. According to Henken, Trump’s new Cuba policies will still leave about 80 percent of Obama's changes in place.

And although the conversation regarding Cuba is a deeply political one, Henken does not want to give praise to or admonish either president and their policies during his talk. Instead, he wants the event to be, in his words, “Cuba 101 for the curious.”

And what brings Henken to Chatham? “Back in April I was invited by a cruise ship company going to Cuba to be an onboard educator,” Henken said. “There was a group of people from Chatham who were on the cruise. We kind of hit it off. They told me to come speak in Chatham over the summer. They’ve done an amazing job organizing this.”