(image courtesy of SPEA at IU)
An instructor at IU-Bloomington unwittingly picked an opportune time to take a group of students to Cuba for spring break next year.
Dan Preston, a clinical assistant professor at IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, had already planned the trip for 15 students to Havana next March long before President Obama's announcement that he wished to normalize relations with Cuba. "I wasn't expecting it, but it's exciting news," Preston said. "I think it will make the trip more interesting for students, but I don't think things will change rapidly enough to make a real meaningful difference in terms of what their experience would be, in terms of what life is like in Cuba."
The trip would be Preston's first to Cuba but not his first overseas venture for students, as he uses the trips as part of the honors section of a National and International Policy course to teach students how governments work in different countries. Preston was especially looking forward to Cuba since it is one of the last robust Communist states in the world, "one in which the state controls almost all parts of society," Preston said. "So we can see how government services in Cuba work, see it's successes, probably a lot of its failures and watch and reflect on how it changes over time."
Obama wants to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, and the president also has talked about changes to the embargo that has cut off American-made goods to Cuba during that time, though only Congress has the power to lift the embargo. Preston says that isn't their fight, and he doesn't expect talks between the US and Cuba to affect their trip. "It took an awful lot of time to plan the trip, making sure this is safe program, one that provides good learning outcomes, one that uses operators that will get us there and provide the best services as possible." Travel has already been approved by an agency that was cleared by the US Department of the Treasury, which has to negotiate such visits with a state-approved travel agency in Cuba.