Speaking about Cuba this Wednesday in Chicago

cuban photographer in Havana

Talking with residents during my ponytail-“barbudo” days while working in the Havana bureau for the Chicago Tribune in 2001. 


Just a short note to say that I’ve been asked to talk about Cuba on Wednesday (that’s tomorrow) for a chat at the Cultural Center of Chicago on Cuba.  It’ll be more of a conversation than a lecture, although I will be showing pictures and scanning some negatives as much as I can to show. It’s free and will only take an hour. Come by at 1pm. Here are some more details:

Wednesday – 1/21/2015 –  1-2pm
Chicago Cultural Center
Garland Room Fl 1
78 E Washington St Chicago, IL, 60602-4801
Free. Open to the public.

If possible,  it’d be great to stick around afterward and chat about all things Cuba. One hour isn’t enough time!

Interesting tidbit – one of the reasons why I majored in political science at Northwestern and made Cuba the focus of a thesis was because of a class where a professor dissected the Bay of Pigs invasion fiasco. It was mesmerizing. I remember thinking, and this idiocy is why I can’t visit family? I became fascinated by how politics can affect our world and shape experiences for generations.

Some of the questions we’ll get into are: How can the two countries work together to create a positive future? How has the embargo affected life on the island? What kinds of stories about Cuba are missing from our media?

Heady stuff.  Whether we can answer all those questions will be up for debate, but if you are planning on visiting Cuba or are fascinated as I am with the country, this will be a great primer for your trip.


6,000 Reasons Why the Embargo Won’t Go Quietly



©1999 Alex Garcia

So I’m walking through Havana one day and see the picture at top and think to myself, that’s pretty amazing. It was 1995. Relations between our two governments were tense but I’m staring at the words “New York”, in the heart of Havana, chiseled in stone.  As I found out later, the bank was one of 11 expropriated branches of the National City Bank of New York, which later became Citibank.

The value of its branches when seized after the Revolution was estimated at $6 million.

But Citibank became embroiled in a 22-year battle over the expropriation, in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The decision had implications for how U.S. entities could recoup funds when another country seizes its assets.

Some five years later, I’m walking by the exact same location and looked up. Different sign. Again, I thought, that’s pretty amazing.

Like this branch, thousands of properties across Cuba were confiscated after the Revolution. I have family who came here and had to leave everything behind except what they could carry with them. It’s both a financial and emotional issue. The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission recognizes almost 6,000 claims, the vast majority of them from individuals.

Under the Helms-Burton Act, the embargo isn’t going anywhere until these claims are satisfied. How that will happen would take something of a miracle, given that the Cuban government doesn’t have the money to pay and many of the properties don’t even exist anymore (or are even worth claiming).

Cuba will likely advance the argument that its losses against the embargo should be taken into consideration as well.

Even with the best negotiation and the best signage, there really is no papering over this issue.