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Prof. Montero shares Cuba experiences in Re-Alignments talk

<ntero, professor of Political Scienceand Director of Latin American Studies at Carleton, gave a lecture on Jan. 20 concerning his recent two-week trip to Cuba.

The video presentation, titled “Re-Alignments,” which took place in the Gould Library Athenaeum, was accompanied by digital videos showing a nation held back by antiquated policies and technology, but eager to spring forward on the gathering momentum of youthful enthusiasm and hope.

Montero’s trip to Cuba served as invaluable first-hand experience to supplement his prior knowledge and will give his Cuban Politics Seminar students a richer learning experience this winter term. But this particular expedition also bore personal significance for him. Making the trip with his mother, who was born in Cuba, Montero was able to connect with other family members who had long been living in the communist police state. Montero chronicled the fascinating experiences of his 12 days traveling, describing everything from architecture to culture in a country that is geographically near the United States, but which is politically and economically in a different world.

Montero, his mother and a lawyer who works with individuals who have claims in both Cuba and the US, began their journey in South Florida. From there, it was only a 45-minute flight to the island nation, but for Montero it felt like they had travelled back in time to the 1950s.

“All around Havana there are statues of Jos Mart, government buildings formerly used by Batista, antique cars, and pictures of Che everywhere. Political statements are placed in prominent places,” said Montero, “so that everybody is reminded to be like Che.”

Some individuals even alter their appearance to look like the iconic revolutionary so they can make money from tourists looking for a photo op.

Every night at 9 p.m., the old cannons go off like clockwork. After the 1959 government was overthrown, these cannons were used to cover up the traumatizing sounds of Batista government criminals being executed by firing squad. Now, military arms seem to be something that the Cuban government likes to show off, stated Montero after showing some videos featuring a number of historically significant military vehicles and replicas that are used to commemorate acts of defiance against Batista.

However, one of the memorials still in place is that of the U.S.S. Maine. Though the eagle was removed by Fidel and the original inscription on the memorial was changed by the revolutionary government to reflect more anti-imperialist [sentiments], stated Montero, the Cubans left the rest of the memorial in fairly good condition out of respect for the American sailors who died that day. This suggests that though ideologies may differ greatly between the two nations, sacrifice in the name of a noble cause can achieve a more universal and enduring respect.

Feelings of respect for those who have paved the way to the present can easily be seen in Cuba’s vast cemeteries that are like beautiful works of art. These sacred sites, which Montero described as being very important in Cuban society are kept in immaculate condition and contain the gravesites of many figures from Cuban history and politics.

However, though the resting places of the dead may be well cared for, the homes of the living have seen many hard times in decades past. “When in urban areas,” says Montero, “one can see a lot of concrete and a lot in disrepair. This dilapidation has much to do with the weak state of the Cuban economy, which has forced families to just let homes go when faced with more pressing matters like affording food on minimal income.” In addition, every Cuban had to be a mechanic, plumber, etc., stated Montero, meaning that if he wanted something done, he’d have to do figure out how to do it himself.

It is here that the idea of resolve can be seen in action. For Cubans, resolve means to solve your problems, and is characterized by the act of going out to barter/trade/buy their way into a better lifestyle. The average Cuban may only get meat in their diet once a month using the government program, so in order to improve their diet, they take action in the form of resolve.

But, while the economy fell drastically short in Cuba, education excelled after the revolution.

“Unquestionably,” commented Montero, “education is one of the biggest successes of the revolution.” Cuba has a very high literacy rate and, according to Montero, most individuals he conversed with spoke Spanish correctly and did not slur their pronunciations. There are a surprising number of universities in Cuba and he described the campus he visited as stunningly beautiful.

The members of this younger generation, who are currently enrolled in these universities, see the nations’ future as being bright because they don’t have any other option. They are too young to have been part of the revolution or its immediate aftermath, but they were there for the inhumane hardships of the emergency period in the 90s.

“They can only look forward,” remarked Montero, “because the past was so bad.

“The youth don’t want to abandon Cuba and flee to the US; they want to stay in their country. But only time will tell if they have the spirit to steer their beloved nation out of its present dire straits and into a stable and prosperous future.”

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