On May 19, 2013, I attended “The Future Freedom in Cuba,” at the CATO Institute in Washington, DC. The speakers were very prominent Cuban independent journalists fighting for the democratization of Cuba; Yoani Sanchez, an avid blogger and Orlando Lazo, free-lance writer and established first Cuban online news website. Both of the speakers were arrested, harassed, and beat for trying to let the truth of the “real” life in Cuba escape. The event started with Yoani Sanchez expanding on her personal experience with the heavy control of the Cuban government on internet censorship and media site banishment. Sanchez’s stance on the governments attempt to stop communication was based on her opinions that with the mass use of sites like Twitter, will break down the Cubans intangible walls of censorship. A prominent idea that Sanchez presented was that the more people who get the information of Cuba’s society out, that the information has the potential to corrode the regime of silence. The second speaker Lazo is not afraid to do anything to get his voice heard and has been punished multiple times for speaking out against the Cuban regime. Lazo stated that “language is a tool that has been taken away since the Castro regime.” Lazo felt as though the government has tried to oppress the Cuban people in every way possible, and the Generation Y youth are not afraid to speak out and fight for change. In agreement with Sanchez, Lazo feels that these various media sites are an outlet and “free-zone” for people to get the information out and get more involvement. During the question and answer segment of the event, Sanchez was asked what her views on the embargo were, and she explained that the “embargo was used as an excuse for everything.” She expanded by stating that the Cuban government uses the embargo as the cause to why they are imposing certain policies and actions towards the citizens. In closing, both speaker Lazo and Sanchez spoke on their fears of the people giving up the fight to spread the world and just abandoning the country. Sanchez stated that the people should not want to simply run away, but to stand as one and gain support, to democratize the nation that can do so many things, if the support was there.
Tuesday, January 15, 2013, The Woodrow Wilson Center’s European Studies program hosted Lord Lothian, formerly the Right Honorable Michael Ancram Member of Parliament, in a discussion of the shift in United States foreign policy. Lord Lothian emphasized the implications the pivot of focus to the Asia-Pacific region may have for the future of the Euro-Atlantic relationship in the context of the present global tensions, particularly in the Middle East region. Lord Lothian’s extensive experience in foreign affairs includes a career as a Conservative Member of Parliament from 1974 to 2010. After his service as an MP, he was appointed to the House of Lords as a Life Peer. Presently, he serves on the Intelligence and Security Committee and is the Chairman of Global Strategy Forum.
The discussion focused on three key areas: shifting Western foreign policy since the fall of the Berlin Wall, identifying a new phase of problems, and the challenges Europe will face with waning military support from the United States. Lord Lothian noted that after the Cold War there was a “unipolar moment for the United States to use its power to benefit the world…but after the Balkans (when the U.S. and other European powers failed to intervene against the USSR), it drifted”. He explained that with the events of the 9/11 attacks there was a clear existential threat to respond to in Afghanistan, however the purpose got “muddled up”. He stated that pursuing the Taliban was like “pushing water up hill” the trouble with which is that it will come down again. Thus, it was clear that Western forces must stay until the job was done, but the issue became defining the “job”. In this context, Lord Lothian identified three other areas where a new phase of problems has developed: Syria, Jordan, and the Pacific. With regards to Syria and Jordan, Lord Lothian underscored the “untenable position” we are getting drawn into in our misunderstanding of the Arab Spring and the rise of militant Islamism, which we perhaps unwittingly supported. Here again he points out that it is unclear what we are doing. Finally, Lord Lothian posited what the shift of the United States’ influence and interests towards the Asia-Pacific region means for Western foreign policy. Arguably, he maintains that such a shift poses enormous problems for Europe including undermining NATO possibly to the point of collapse, and exposing European countries’ inability, or in some cases unwillingness, to provide defense for the European Union at-large. Britain and France are incapable of financially supporting a larger military, Germany is not willing to “underwrite European security outside of the European theatre”, and other countries would face the impossible task of increasing their defense budgets “150-200%”. Lord Lothian’s final assessment: Europe is simply not able to conduct security the same without the United States.
In closing, Lord Lothian took the time to answer audience questions. One of the interesting points he made was in articulating the challenges that the European Union faces in its attempt to unify the European countries. Lord Lothian noted that there is a distinct difference amongst European citizens with regard to their identity. European citizens do not feel identified with their nation. There is an internal movement in Europe and the demographics are shifting. Europeans are not like Americans in the sense that each American, regardless of state of origin, identifies as an “American”, part of the nation at-large. Europe is made up of distinctly different people who do not consider themselves “European”. Thus, unifying them under one centralized government is not necessarily possible as it is in the United States of America.
The World Affairs Council 2013 Global Education Gala was hosted Thursday, March 7 at the Ritz Carlton in Washington, D.C. The World Affairs Council is a leading forum for global education and international affairs. Honorees emphasized that it is not the acquisition of knowledge that matters, but what you do with it.
The keynote speaker was General Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Charismatic and humorous in his delivery, General Dempsey continued the theme of the speakers of the evening, stating simply, “Knowledge is not power.” Quoting celebrated football legend Vince Lombardi, General Dempsey explained his personal campaign of learning could be summed up in these words: “If you don’t improve, you deteriorate.” He also emphasized the importance of education to our country saying, “Education is a national strategic resource… it illuminates the path that allows us to dare to be great” and “Education is the price of admission into a highly competitive global market place.” Considering himself not only the highest ranking military officer in the land, but also the highest ranking student and teacher, he dynamically exhibited his passion and dedication for learning. General Dempsey views the military as a “customer of our education place.” In the words of Nelson Mandela, he impressed upon us that “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” Ending with a nod to pop culture, General Dempsey referenced the Dos Equis’s Most Interesting Man in the World campaign and urged us all to “Stay curious my friends.”
Students who attended also had the opportunity to meet the State Department’s Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine. Honorees included were Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, President of University of Maryland Baltimore County (Educator of the Year), CISCO (Global Education Award), Frederick Thomas, Founder & CEO of MHz Networks (Global Communications Award), and Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to the United States, His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba (Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award).