Skip to main content

Jackson School Professor Talks About A New Era in U.S.-Cuba Relations

March 21, 2016


Glennys Young

On March 20-22, 2016, President Obama will become the first sitting U.S. President in 88 years to go to Havana, Cuba. His two-day visit is part of ongoing efforts to normalize relations between the two nations.


Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba (standing, right) welcomes Embajada de Cuba en Estados Unidos First Secretary Miguel Fraga (center). Jackson School Professor and Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Program Tony Lucero (left) moderated the event.

A recent, first-ever visit to Seattle and the University of Washington by First Secretary to the Embassy of Cuba Miguel Fraga also has signaled the thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations.

On March 9, the Jackson School hosted First Secretary Fraga at an event moderated by Jackson School Associate Professor and Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Program Tony Lucero. Fraga spoke to a standing room only audience of students, faculty and member of the public on a range of issues, from preparation for an influx of tourists to challenges for Internet access.

Below, UW Jackson School of International Studies and History Professor Glennys Young gives her view on the potential impact of an improved U.S.-Cuba relationship.

You can also read her first-person account of her impressions of Cuba when she visited the country in April 2015 to conduct research for her latest book: “Refugee Worlds: The Spanish Civil War, Soviet Socialism, Franco’s Spain, and Memory Politics.”


Jackson School Latin America & Caribbean Studies Program Affiliate Faculty and History Professor Glennys Young talks about her visit to Cuba and hopes for U.S.-Cuban relations.

What do you think about the new era of improved U.S.-Cuban relations? With everyone I met during my trip last April – from the many cab drivers, scholars and people from all walks of life — I can say they seemed very, very excited. As one historian said to me “We’re all North Americans.” They told me they respected President Obama as a world leader because he has pushed to normalize relations but also for his command of foreign affairs.

What are your hopes and fears for Cuba? This is a complex question. But with regard to Cuba and the digital revolution – the topic of my blog piece – I hope to see more Internet access that the Cubans seemed to want when I spoke with them. But I fear that the wonderful social interactions will be gone and turn into what we see more and more in digitalized countries, which is social isolation, less face-to-face time. I worry about the environmental effects of economic development — Cuba has some incredible natural resources and the most unspoiled beaches in the world. I would really like to see more non-governmental and local partnerships between our two nations, and student exchanges, including at UW, too.

What is your research on Cuba about? As a historian of the Soviet Union, I was not intending to write about Cuba. I had of course taught some Cuban history in my courses on the Cold War and the global history of communism and referenced it in other publications, such as my recent book “The Communist Experience in the Twentieth Century: A Global History Through Sources” (Oxford University Press, 2011). Then while researching my book about 3,000 children who were evacuated from Spain to The Soviet Union during the Cold War, I came across stories about political exiles. This included a small number of Soviet Union-trained military experts, who were born in Spain and who served as officers for the loyalist army defending the Spanish Republic against Franco’s nationalist forces in the Spanish Civil War. Beginning in early 1960, they came to Cuba to advise Fidel Castro on a range of defense strategies for the island, including the protection of Havana from a U.S. military invasion. The Spanish Communist Party played a key role in this arrangement.

Will improved U.S.-Cuba relations make a difference in your access to research material? At some level, it is hard to distinguish between the recent renewal efforts of U.S.-Cuban relations and the separate, general process of reform in Cuba that has already been underway since 2011. That said, during my trip to Cuba last year I was able to delve more deeply than I expected into state archives and conduct interviews. I also heard from other researchers that archival access for foreign scholars has improved since I was in Cuba. I am grateful to the Institute of History of the Cuban Communist Party for sponsoring my research and facilitating archival access. The Institute’s support was in part made possible by the improvement of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Young’s research on Cuba will be part of a book that will be the first study of its kind about global consequences of the displacement of Spanish Civil war exiles and refugees to the USSR, the repatriation of some to Spain beginning in 1954, and the role of “Soviet Spaniards” as military advisers and cultural intermediaries in the Cuban Revolution, among other anti-colonial struggles in the 1960s and 1970s.

In closing, Young noted a new course on Cuba “The Cuban Revolution” (HSTLAC 289) is starting in spring quarter 2016 at UW, to be taught by History Professor Ileana RodríguezSilva.