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Under the bright Havana sun, surrounded by a group of keen intellectuals and political

activists and constantly engaged in important discussions, I knew that I had to share my
experience with the rest of my community. My ten day political advocacy trip to Cuba,
sponsored by the Witness for Peace organization, was an incredibly informative and enlightening
experience, especially in terms of the unique perspective and knowledge that I gained on
important Cuban-American affairs. When I touched down from the trip my mind immediately
began to consider all the options that I had to share my experience with my greater community; I
knew that whatever I chose to do could potentially be daunting and challenging, but that with the
right attitude and plan I could make whatever I chose to do work. After a few days of thinking
and planning, I decided that the idea of hosting a Cuba-U.S. relations debate would be the most
effective way to achieve my goal. I overcame the logistical and academic challenges of
organizing, hosting and participating in the Cuba-U.S. Relations debate, namely by finding
participants for the debate, writing effective debate rules and preparing myself to participate in
the debate by forming a small information network of local Cuba experts, involving the young
democrats leadership and diplomatically communicating with all participants.

I found (and kept) participants for the debate by forming a local network of Cuba experts
and ensuring polite discourse with them. My first contact with an important member of the
Cuban-American advocacy network in the Howard County area occurred during a meeting with
the leader of the Howard County Republican society and Agustin Blazquez, an activist, political
refugee and artist. During this meeting I got my first taste of the fierce and often personal
political debating that would mark the road to the official debate. During our dinner and
conversation I made sure to always stay calm, receptive, while firmly defending and
explaining my views to both the HC republican leader and Mr. Blazquez. Additionally, due to

my open-mindedness I was able to see that even though I did not necessarily agree with all of
Mr. Blazquezs opinions that he was certainly well versed in the field of Cuban-American
relations. I therefore decided to contact him again when I and the Young Democrats were
deciding upon members of the debate. After a bit of back and forth dialogue with Mr. Blazquez I
got his full response, which, among many other things, included calling me a useful fool[s],
stating that I am also concerned that you seem to be closed to any information that is contrary to
what you have been given and seen "first hand" on your 10 day visit. I don't know how you can
justify that your conclusions are more valid that those of people who live there or have studied
conditions there professionally for decades. Although I was of course initially highly
offended(and to this day still do take a bit more than slight offense from his allegations,
especially those charging me with close-mindedness, which I find highly ironic). Even though I
was very tempted to respond with similarly critical or harsh words, I instead sent a polite and
thankful email back and kept cordial relations. Because of my diplomatic communication in this
instance, Mr. Blazquez later helped me find a replacement for his debate that ended up fitting in
with our program perfectly well. If I had cut off connections in that moment of anger I might not
have been able to continue on with the debate at all. The replacement speaker, Mr.Calzon, that
Mr. Blazquez sent us seemed (upon initial interactions) more moderate and reasonable and we
eagerly invited him to participate in the debate. However, Mr. Calzon, as we soon found out,
was not without his own eccentricities and difficulties in managing.

As I and the Young Democrats began to approach the date of the debate we started to work in
creating the formal rules of the debate. One of the debate rules created involved a starting
proposal for the debate that the audience would vote on in the beginning and then after. The
starting motion was The United States should continue to normalize economic and political

relations with Cuba., to which participants could vote yes or no. Although I and the Young
Democrats board thought this was a perfectly fair motion, as soon as Mr. Calzon was informed
of the proposal he expressed serious concerns. He claimed the wording of the question
(specifically that it was not in the form of a question and how the motion did not take into
account future repercussions of policy) was too biased to be presented to the audience. Of
course the way in which he communicated this desire was rather brash, mildly passive aggressive
and overall quite demanding and rude. He also felt the necessity of going on a rather long
monologue about his political views on the phone when we were simply trying to clear up a
matter of semantics for the debate; he acted in a quite heavy handed manner that took me quite
by surprise. Again, during the interaction with Mr. Calzon I could have been responded to his
demands in the same way he asked them: in an impolite, authoritative and heavy handed way.
However I (and the Young Democrats leadership) remained calm, treated him with respect and
diplomatically arranged a solution to his concerns. Again by using diplomatic language and
techniques, such as ensuring open and effective communication, quick call back times, and
involvement of all parties, I was able to maintain a professional relationship with Mr. Calzon that
served to be very useful for the debate and beyond.

Throughout the entire experience of planning the debate, the need for diplomatic language and
communication became highly evident. Even in the face of antagonism, respectful and well
thought out words were the only true weapons of choice if I wanted to keep options open in the
short and long run. Indeed even during the debate, when diametrically opposed views clashed
and harsh words were exchanged, I still found that maintaining a calm, respectful manner despite
the advertised represented the best technique. Alienate no one but stand your ground , this is
truly what I have learned from my Cuba debate.