Thursday, September 20, 2018
Books

Diplomat Vicki Huddleston talks books and U.S. relations with Cuba

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Vicki Huddleston

Huddleston, 75, is the former chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, and her report for the Brookings Institution about normalizing relations with Cuba was a blueprint for President Barack Obama’s diplomatic opening with Raúl Castro in 2014. She has just published her memoir, Our Woman in Havana: A Diplomat’s Chronicle of America’s Long Struggle with Fidel Castro’s Revolution, and will make two appearances in Tampa this week.

What books are you reading?

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana by William M. LeoGrande. It puts things in context. It moves from Eisenhower and Kennedy through Obama. It shows various efforts Republicans and Democrats made to reach out to Cuba and establish a better relationship. I also have The Norton Book of Women’s Lives edited by Phyllis Rose. There are a lot of excerpts and stories from many women. She includes Maya Angelou and I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, Simone de Beauvoir and Prime of Life, My Apprenticeship by Colette and The White Album by Joan Didion.

And then I’m also reading The Revenge of Geography by Robert C. Kaplan for a talk I will be giving. I also have Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. ... In Revenge of Geography, the point the author makes is a lot of politics is determined by the location of the country and the country’s desires to defend itself. For example, the ocean can be used to expand outward or it can be used as a barrier. Look at the heartland of Europe and how it has always been essential to any conquering power, whether it was when Russia tried to expand further down in Europe and to the Mideast or when Napoleon attempted to conquer most of Europe.

When was the moment you decided to write your memoir?

I was in Cuba, and I was driving on a Saturday, and at an intersection I saw some teenagers who needed a ride. I picked them up, several Cuban kids, and they realized the car was different than what they were used to seeing. They asked what kind of car it was, and I said it is a Ford Crown Victoria. They said, "Who are you?" I told them I was the chief of (the United States Interests Section in Havana) and then there was silence. I thought they would get out of the car. But instead, a young lady said, "Be our mother. Take us to Miami."

I thought then that those kids deserve a future in Havana, not Miami. They deserve a future in Cuba, and our policy, which I feel reinforces the Castro government, and certainly deprives them of a better life, should change. I thought that when I left foreign service, I would write about Cuba, and I would talk about the kids.

Contact Piper Castillo at [email protected]
Follow @Florida_PBJC.

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