UM hosts Cuba Conference, actor Andy Garcia speaks of ‘necessity for freedom’



Academy Award-nominated actor Andy Garcia came to the University of Miami Cosford Cinema Friday morning as the keynote speaker for the UM Cuba Conference.

Garcia, a Cuban-born actor and film producer, spoke to the audience about his experiences inside and outside of Cuba and his movie The Lost City.

Garcia’s talk, “Visions of Today, Hopes for Tomorrow,” marked the most current addition to a list of Cuban celebrities who have attended the conference every year, including former Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, former Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle, Pulitzer Prize winner Oscar Hijuelos and Grammy Award winner Gloria Estefan.

“The necessity for freedom is non-negotiable,” Garcia said to an audience of approximately 200 guests. “We all have the dream of a free Cuba.”

Garcia spoke for an hour and a half about the importance of maintaining one’s roots in the face of forces pressuring for change as well as the necessity of reaching out to those within the island. Both the audience and Garcia teared up when he breached the subject of nostalgia for the audience.

“Every Cuban has a void that can’t be filled,” Garcia said, referring to the pain of leaving Cuba behind. “What do you do with that void?”

Over 200 students from all over the country gathered at the UM Cuba Conference to discuss the state of affairs in Cuba and what action to take to help the people in the country. The conference, which was organized jointly by Raíces de Esperanza, a youth action group, and UM’s CAUSA (Students United for a Free Cuba) lasted four days from Thursday until Sunday, and it represents the sixth annual event organized by Raíces de Esperanza.

“This conference will focus on developing initiatives that will directly impact our counterparts in Cuba and inspire young people to proactively work toward change on the island,” said Veronica Nur Valdés, a spokeswoman for Raíces, in a statement released in preparation for the conference.

Raíces de Esperanza, or Roots of Hope, is a non-profit, nonpartisan service organization, that, through cultural and academic initiatives, seeks to unite the Cuban youth living on the island with those living in the United States. Their main objectives, according to their Web site, are to form a student network between all the campus groups, sponsor annual academic conferences in campuses across the country and reach out to those living in Cuba.

“The purpose of Raíces de Esperanza is to empower youth to be the authors of their own future,” said Isi Bonilla, a member of UM’s CAUSA group who has been planning and organizing the conference since last year.

The organization has grown to encompass 2,000 students and young professionals representing 87 schools and 28 affiliated campus organizations across the country. The average age of their members is 21. Their projects include facilitating conference calls to the island, the Evolution Project and a series of advocacy campaigns called Action Alerts that have resulted in the release of various Cuban figures harassed by the government.

In order to host the conference, UM’s CAUSA group submitted a proposal outlining the reasons why they should be chosen, beating out other top universities including Harvard and Georgetown. In the past, the conference has been hosted by Duke, Penn State and Princeton among others.

“We laid out the agenda that was going to be used for the conference,” added Bonilla. “And Miami is the capital for Cuban affairs in the United States.”