Saturday, March 07, 2009

Ohio Northern University sends students to Cuba

Ohio Northern University Cuba trip comes at interesting time

March 6, 2009 - 6:42 PM

Beth L. Jokinen

ADA - Ohio Northern University sends its fourth group of students to Cuba today. It's the first to go when improved relations between Cuba and the United States actually seem possible.

Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro, brother of former leader Fidel Castro, expressed a willingness to talk.

"The previous administration was very strict and harsh in its relation with Cuba, as was Fidel's relationship with the Bush administration," said Terry Maris, director of the school's Center for Cuban Business Studies.

While Obama has other pressing world issues to address, Maris believes in time the two leaders will come together.

"It is long overdue," he said. "It's been five decades of having strained relationships with the Cuban government."

Maris and eight students will spend 11 weeks in Cuba. Students will study at the University of Havana. The schools have partnered for 10 years.

Aaron Campbell, a Lima Senior High School graduate, will accomplish two goals. The biology pre-medicine major will learn Spanish and take a business class. He and Sabrina Dowd, a junior psychology and Spanish major from Nashville, Tenn., know the significance of the trip.

"Not a lot of Americans get to travel there and I don't know if that will change or not," she said. "But it is definitely something to go and experience and be able to come back and share those experiences."

The students arrive days after Raul Castro released several top cabinet members from his brother's regime. A few were considered possible Fidel Castro successors.

"I think it will be positive in terms of Raul Castro's leadership, his strength and control of the government," Maris said. "In regards to the rest of the world, that remains to be seen."

Before relations change, Maris said, America's trade embargo has to loosen. For that to happen, Cuba must meet certain conditions like free and impartial elections and release political prisoners. The embargo began in 1962. Travel restrictions also remain. Any change would likely be applauded by Cubans, Maris said.

"There is a whole generation of young adults who have known nothing but communism," he said.

Campbell, a senior, hopes Obama lifts the embargo. He's been studying Cuba and its U.S. relationship.

"The embargo really isn't hurting the Communist regime. It is hurting more of the Cuban people than Castro and his buddies," he said. "Lifting the embargo would be good for them and good for us during this difficult financial time."

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