A ten day whirlwind tour in Seattle and cities in Northern California marked the first time in over two decades that a Cuban diplomat had spoken on the West Coast of the United States. In Seattle it was the first visit by a Cuban diplomat since a solidarity event there that coincided with the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in 1999.
From March 2 – 11 Miguel Fraga, first secretary of the newly re-opened Cuban Embassy in Washington DC, spoke at 20 different events including 9 colleges and universities. Students at Seattle University, University of Washington, Seattle Central College, Pinchot University, Sonoma State University, Chabot College, San Francisco State University, Merritt College and College of Marin all were able to hear a perspective on Cuba they had not heard before.
Close to 1500 people attending the university and public events were able to not only hear a well researched talk about what Cuba has been able to achieve despite the blockade but also they heard about the contradictions and the severity of the blockade and the international condemnation of it. Thousands of others who were not able to attend the meetings heard him on radio stations or in local newspaper articles.
The positive tone of the forty five minute power point presentation reflects Cuba’s position on moving forward towards normalization of relations between the two countries. Fraga’s presentation covers the last 55 years of conflict up through the last 15 months of negotiations and the incremental changes that have begun. The closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and the return of the land it rests on to its rightful owners was emphasized in every event along the way.
Miguel Fraga reminded the audiences that to keep the negotiations going they had to be held in an atmosphere of mutual respect. It was not surprising to the First Secretary and the organizers of the tour that the blockade of honest information by the corporate media in the U.S. when it comes to Cuba has taken its toll. The majority of the students attending had only heard a negative view of Cuba through a steady diet of misinformation. For many this was the first time that they had heard a presentation on Cuba based on factual and statistical information.
The size of the meetings and the genuine interest in the Cuban reality exceeded all expectations and that was reflected in the engaged discussions that followed each presentation. Media coverage of the tour was also significant with a number of mainstream articles, online publications and radio interviews. A social media network was also very active during the days of the tour in Seattle and in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In Seattle the First Secretary met with elected officials from King County and Seattle City Council, the Washington State legislature, and with 7th District Congressman Jim McDermott. In Northern California he met with California State lawmakers as well as with mayors and council-members of cities across the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition he also met with Presidents of Community Colleges as well as the Superintendent of Schools in Hayward. The tour ended with a well attended community meeting at the Richmond City Council Chamber; the same place where a few days before the Richmond City Council had adopted a resolution asking for the end of the commercial, economic and financial blockade against Cuba.
Also noteworthy throughout the tour was the presence of Cuban Americans – anxious to make contact and to explore how they can forge improved relationships with their country of origin.
Highlights of the visit in Seattle were the 300 staff and students who came to hear Miguel speak at Seattle Central College, and the 120 who attended an emotional celebration at El Centro de la Raza as part of the opening of the photographic exhibit documenting the return of the Cuban 5 to Cuba. Fraga started his tour with a community reception in the International District with a diverse crowd of East Africans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Latinos and elected officials.
A highlight of his time in Northern California was the visit made to the State Capitol in Sacramento where Isadore Hall III, a state senator from Los Angeles, recognized him on the Senate floor. It was a historic day in the capitol of the richest state in the country where for the first time in more than 50 years a Cuban diplomat was welcomed by the California State Senate while prominently displaying the flag of Cuba in their chambers. During the week Miguel Fraga also met with labor and local organizations.
Miguel’s visit to Seattle was organized by the Seattle /Cuba Friendship Committee, the US Women and Cuba Collaboration, the National Lawyers Guild and various departments of Seattle University, UW and Seattle Central. The only event that was uniquely the responsibility of the Seattle/Cuba Friendship Committee was the Cuban 5 exhibit.
In Northern California the tour was organized by the International Committee for Peace, Justice and Dignity in collaboration with faculty members and student organizations from the five different campuses where Miguel Fraga spoke. The community event in Richmond on March 11 was a joint effort of Richmond/Regla Friendship Committee, Marin Task Force on the Americas and the International Committee. On March 12, a separate and final meeting was held in San Francisco and was organized by the ANSWER Coalition, Cuba and Venezuela Solidarity Committee and BALASC.
West Coast Media coverage of Miguel Fraga Tour
The tour received a wide range of media coverage in Seattle and in the San Francisco Bay Area including newspapers, radio interviews and one local college TV interview at Chabot College. KPLU 88.5, Seattle Times, Capitol Hill Times, Radio La Primerisima, El Tecolote, Press Democrat, Contra Costa Times, KKMO 1360 Radio El Rey, KDNA 91.6 Radio Cadena, KVSR 91.7 FM, Skagit Valley Community Radio, Pájaro Latinoamericano (KPOO, 89.5 FM) Línea Abierta (Radio Bilingüe, KSJV 91.5 FM) Hecho en California (Radio 1010 KIQI AM) The Morning Mix (KPFA 94.1 FM) and Chabot TV Interview, KQED, La Raza Cronica (KPFA 94.1 FM).