By elaine wong | dailypennsylvanian.com
Forget about Cancun and the sunny beaches of California.
For Aaron Miller and a group of 17 students, Havana, Cuba, was a more appealing spring break destination.
Miller, a first-year Law student, took the initiative last October of organizing an educational trip to the communist-controlled nation.
“It was an ambition I had coming into the Law School,” he said. “As a Law student, I wanted to see what the legal system [there] was like.”
Although the current United States embargo policy prohibits travel to Cuba, Miller and his colleagues were exempted on the grounds that they were pursuing an independent study research project for academic credit.
In planning the trip, Miller—who plans to concentrate his thesis on morality and law—talked to other students who had been to Cuba who put him in touch with the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. The NDI set up meetings between Miller and his fellow travelers and dissidents in Cuba without the Cuban government’s knowledge.
Miller met with several prominent Cuban officials, law professors and even dissidents such as Vladimiro Roca, the president of the Social Democratic Party.
Roca, a former member of the Communist Party, served nearly five years in prison for criticizing Communist policies.
Miller found his encounter with Roca “very compelling because Roca’s father was a large leader in the formation of Cuba.”
“He could have been in the inner circle but ended up serving jail time for his ideological beliefs,” he said.
Before going to Cuba, Miller admits that he had a “false impression of what things were like.”
For instance, he was surprised at the friendly treatment he received and concluded that although Cubans have “a less favorable view of [President Bush], they actually like Americans.”
“They’re able to detach the American people from the government,” he said, noting that many Cubans have family members living in the United States.
Frank Martinez, a first-year Law student who accompanied Miller to Cuba, met the wives of 75 dissidents who were jailed in March 2003 for their political activities.
Martinez met the women during a service at the church of Santa Rita in Miramar—a district of Havana—and was particularly impressed with the women’s silent march down the streets after the church service.
“For the most part, people just live their daily lives,” he said, “but political freedoms are lacking because there is a sophisticated system of oppression.”
Katherine Milgram, also a first-year Law student, said the trip was a chance to observe the country from an unbiased perspective.
“There are legal and geopolitical issues that all of us should be aware of ... especially if there is a change in Cuba that will affect the United States someday,” she said.