U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez, a Cuban-American refugee, addressed the relationship between his former home and his current one, blaming Cuban officials for poor relations between the two countries at Harvard University's Institute of Politics Monday evening.
The last fifty years have been [one of] the greatest social disasters of our time, Gutierrez said in reference to the tense relations between the United States and Cuba as well as the human rights abuses committed by the Cuban government towards its people.
Gutierrez arrived in the United States in the 1960s. He learned English from a Miami bellhop.He tooka job with Kelloggs in 1975, and rose to the top of the company as CEO in 1999. In 2005, he was appointed to George W. Bushs cabinet.
The secretarys visit to the institute gave fellow Cuban-Americans an opportunity to speak with not only a government official but a fellow countryman about the continuing American embargo against Cuba and stringent regulation of travel between the two countries.
How can we show the Cuban people theres a different way to live if we cannnot travel there to begin with? Mara I. Rodriguez 08 said after the event. Rodriguez challenged Gutierrez, asking him why Americas relationship with communist China is different than its relationship with the communist island 90 miles off its shore.
Gutierrez asked the audience to make Cubas human right violations the center of its attention and linked the countrys longtime and ailing leader Fidel Castro with terrorist groups.
I believe that Fidel Castro is first and foremost anti-American, Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez connected the countrys current poverty with its leaders corruption.
The average Cuban makes $20 a month, he said. Part of the big problem with Cuba is that the government, of course, provides rations for food. Food rations last about 10 days and then the Cubans are left to resolve their problems, and what that has created is an amazing culture of corruption.
Despite the tense relations between the two countries, the U.S. government has offered aid to Cuba four times in the wake of two recent hurricanes that struck the island, Gutierrez said.
Cubas government has refused each time.
I find that the extreme of politics. I dont think that the people who are starving confuse dignity with starvation, Gutierrez said.
Despite his tough talk, the commerce secretary included a note of optimism in his speech.
Theres a tremendous amount of talent, creativity and vitality, he said, and when that is released, Cuba is going to become one of the greatest nations in the world.