Atlanta leaders looking forward to building closer ties with Cuba

By Saba Long

Normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba is in the works as the White House seeks a new approach to engagement after 54 years.

Congress will further decide the breadth of such relations with votes on three bills to end the trade embargo and travel ban.

A delegation of Atlanta residents from the city’s World Affairs Council recently visited the Caribbean island nation and brought back with them much enthusiasm and hope for the future.

At a Metro Atlanta Chamber discussion last week, René Diaz, chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based Diaz Foods, said: “Cuba is a Communist country trying to be socialist and wanting to be capitalist.”

Diaz and the Chamber’s Jorge Fernandez, both Cuban-Americans, believe the diplomatic opening will lead to economic opportunity.

Fellow panelist Jackie Royster agreed. As dean of Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, she has advised university leaders that the “horizon is indeed a long one with potentially multiple meaningful connections.”

Many attendees from the delegation noted the country’s stark juxtaposition of beauty and decay. Both provided opportunities – for Cuba to become a destination for cultural tourism and for the country to build a robust, thriving economy.

Metro Atlanta leaders are hoping to benefit from the pending economic boon with future World Affairs Council delegations planned to lay the bricks for mutual trust with prospects for nation building.

Just a few days ago, John Kerry visited Havana, the first Secretary of State to visit since Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.

John Kerry in Cuba

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry watches a flock of doves circle the Plaza de San Francisco in Old Havana during his historic trip to Cuba on August 14, 2015 (Photo: U.S. State Department)

In the historic speech, he appropriately quoted the famous Cuban writer Jose Marti, whose passionate calls for a democratic, independent Cuba, have been quoted by Fidel Castro’s friends and enemies alike.

“Jose Marti once said that ‘everything that divides men…is a sin against humanity,’” Kerry said. “Clearly, the events of the past – the harsh words, the provocative and retaliatory actions, the human tragedies – all have been a source of deep division that has diminished our common humanity. There have been too many days of sacrifice and sorrow; too many decades of suspicion and fear. That is why I am heartened by the many on both sides of the Straits who – whether because of family ties or a simple desire to replace anger with something more productive – have endorsed this search for a better path.”

Not surprisingly, some in Washington see the thawing of relations as a legitimization of the Fidel Castro regime. U.S. Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Marco Rubio (R- Florida) have all strongly voiced their opposition to opening the embassy and reestablishing ties with the Cuban government. For Cruz and Rubio, the rhetoric is a strong rallying                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           cry on the presidential campaign trail.

It’s too soon to determine the full extent of future diplomatic relations, but if America can find common ground with China and Iran, surely it can do the same with Cuba.

Saba Long is a communications and political professional who lives in downtown Atlanta. She serves as the senior council aide and communications liaison for Post 2 At-Large Atlanta City Councilman Aaron Watson. Most recently, Saba was the press secretary for MAVEN and Untie Atlanta -- the Metro Chamber’s education and advocacy campaigns in supportive of the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. She has consulted with H.E.G. an analytics and evaluation firm where she lent strategic marketing and social media expertise to numerous political campaigns, including that of Fulton County Chairman John Eaves and the 2010 Clayton County transportation referendum. In 2009, Saba served as the deputy campaign manager for the campaign of City Council President Ceasar Mitchell. Previously, Saba was a Junior Account Executive at iFusion Marketing, where she lent fractional marketing strategy to various ATDC technology startups operating out of the Georgia Tech incubator, ATDC. For the past two years, Saba has presented on online marketing and politics to the incoming fellows of the Atlanta chapter of the New Leaders Council.

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