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"Finding the Real Cuba: Citizen-Entrepreneurs and the Communist-Capitalist State Today" — A Readex ALA Presentation on Video

Posted on 08/12/2014

When Prof. Lillian Guerra declared she would start her Readex-sponsored presentation at the 2014 American Library Association (ALA) annual conference with a joke, I was concerned:

Now, I must admit, my reaction was unwarranted.  Guerra’s anecdote about life in the island nation of Cuba proved to be not only funny, but also telling of the many restrictions Cubans face every day and the steps some are willing to take to openly express opinions.

Considering tight travel restrictions and the United States’ long-standing embargo against the Republic of Cuba, many Americans have a limited view of the island nation and few have stepped foot there themselves.

At a special ALA breakfast event in Las Vegas, Guerra drew back the curtain and provided a first-hand view of Cuba most in attendance had never seen. In a follow-up survey, attendees wrote:

“Dr. Guerra used a combination of scholarship and personal experiences to give us an overview of this fascinating country.”

“The speaker was excellent.  She's one of the best I heard at the conference.”

“It was probably the most interesting session I attended at ALA.  I left feeling pleased that I had gone and am now interested in Dr. Guerra's research.”

Over the past 18 years, Guerra, Waldo Neikirk Professor of Cuban and Caribbean History at the University of Florida, has made more than 40 trips to Cuba, sometimes leading groups of students from her classes and sometimes to visit her own family. During her talk, Guerra provided a glimpse into Cubans’ daily lives, sharing stories and examples gathered during her many visits.

One example of how the socialist state and Communist government impact citizens’ daily lives stands out in my mind. According to Guerra, around 2005, there was a push to replace outdated appliances—in some cases 50-year-old refrigerators manufactured during the Soviet era—with new, energy-efficient models. On the surface, this appeared to be a worthwhile effort.

In the United States, we think about going to the store or shopping online and choosing the right appliance for your home and budget. Perhaps you’ll even receive a rebate or tax credit for upgrading to an energy-efficient system. In Cuba, there were no such choices. Hear why “no Cuban had the right to refuse this”:

As Guerra explained, this policy not only had a sharp economic impact on Cubans, but also a significant emotional effect as they were forced to surrender a “family member.”

Thank you to Professor Guerra for offering a look inside the real Cuba. Her full talk can be found here. Please share this video with your colleagues.

We welcome your feedback and suggestions, and we hope to see you at a future Readex presentation at an ALA conference. For previous presentations on video, including talks by Erica Armstrong Dunbar, Howard Dodson, and others, please see our Event Talks.

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