With Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to Cuba just around the corner, a panel of experts gathered at AEI on Thursday to discuss the situation of religious freedom in Cuba as well as the overall state of the Castro regime. Ambassador G. Philip Hughes, senior director of the White House Writers Group, opened the discussion with his observations from his recent trip to Cuba with the Council of American Ambassadors. He expressed doubts about the permanence of economic changes and highlighted the indecision among Cubans regarding the effect of the U.S. embargo. Ambassador Aldona Wos of the Institute of World Politics discussed her experience growing up in communist Poland, including Pope John Paul II’s visit to the nation in 1979. She emphasized the pride, empowerment and vindication that the pope’s visit provided Polish Catholics and expressed hope that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit could have a parallel effect on Cubans. Ambassador Wos also discussed her experience visiting Cuba, and reflected on the state of Cuban health care from the perspective of a former practicing physician. Lastly, Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, spoke about the historical role of the Catholic Church in Cuba, the Castro regime’s inconsistent commitment to economic reform over the years and how recent U.S. policy has affected Cuba. The panelists agreed that a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and Cuban dissidents would make an important statement, but they disagreed as to whether such a meeting would actually occur.
The Cuban people have repeatedly been the victims of false hope. When Cuban dictator Fidel Castro passed the reins of his government to his brother Raúl in 2008, some international observers optimistically predicted economic reforms and a political opening. Instead, the result has been economic half-measures and a political crackdown. After Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to the island, he urged the Cuban Catholic Church to act “boldly” to ensure religious freedom, but its leadership has failed to advance essential rights. What transformations, if any, will emerge from Pope Benedict XVI’s March 26-28 trip to Cuba? As the region’s leaders gather for the Summit of the Americas on April 14-15, some plan to argue for Castro’s inclusion — but will any speak up for the Cuban people? Please join us for a discussion among a panel of experts, some of whom recently returned from Cuba.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, Cuba Democracy Advocates
G. Philip Hughes, White House Writers Group
Aldona Wos, The Institute of World Politics
Roger F. Noriega, AEI
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Mauricio Claver-Carone is the executive director of Cuba Democracy Advocates, a Washington, D.C.-based non-partisan organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Cuba. In an independent capacity, he is co-founder of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, the largest single foreign-policy political committee in the United States and the largest Hispanic political committee in history. He is also the host of the show From Washington al Mundo on Sirius XM Radio and edits the well-known blog CapitolHillCubans.com. Mr. Claver-Carone has served as an attorney-adviser for the U.S. Department of the Treasury, as a clinical assistant professor at The Catholic University of America’s School of Law and as an adjunct professor at The George Washington University’s National Law Center. Poder Magazine has recognized Mr. Claver-Carone as one of 20 entrepreneurs, executives, leaders and artists under 40 who are shaping the future of the U.S. and the world.
G. Philip Hughes served as the U.S. ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean from 1990 to 1993. He is currently senior director of the White House Writers Group, supporting corporate clients with communications strategies to influence public policy issues in which they have high stakes interests. Mr. Hughes served as a member of the board of directors of the World Affairs Councils of America from 1995 to 2001. He is a member of the board of directors, the executive committee and the fellows committee of the Council of American Ambassadors, for which he also serves as secretary and as chair of the planning committee. He is also a member of the board of directors of the Foreign Policy Discussion Group and the Philadelphia Society, and has been a trustee of People to People International since 2007.
Roger F. Noriega is a visiting fellow at AEI and the founder and managing director of Visión Américas LLC, which advises U.S. and foreign clients on international business issues. He served as the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs (Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean) from July 2003 to October 2005 and as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States from August 2001 to July 2003. Ambassador Noriega currently serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of the Congressional Award Foundation and as a member of the advisory boards of the Canadian American Border Trade Partnership and The Americano, an online forum reaching out to Latino voters.
Aldona Wos served as the U.S. ambassador to Estonia from September 2, 2004, until December 17, 2006. Presently, Ms. Wos is a board member of the Institute of World Politics, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the Council of American Ambassadors, all based in Washington, D.C. Ms. Wos was born in Warsaw, Poland. In March 2007, she was presented the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland by Elzbieta Jakubiak, secretary of state of Poland, on behalf of Polish President Lech Kaczynski. In May 2008, Ms. Wos was presented with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, and in September 2010 she was inducted into the Sovereign Order of Malta.