BY CALEB HALE | THE SOUTHERN
The door to Cuba is open again to Southern Illinois University.
University officials and Southern Illinois congressmen successfully convinced the U.S. Department of Treasury to restore SIU’s license for research on the communist Caribbean island, after it previously had been revoked. SIU was one of many American universities hit with the current presidential administration’s harder line against communication with Cuba. SIU’s license expired June 30, and government officials did not renew the document.
Between the efforts of former Gov. George Ryan and the late former Sen. Paul Simon, Illinois has shown interest in opening lines of trade between the United States and island nation for several years. A delegation from SIU traveled to Cuba in 2000, which resulted in a six-hour meeting between Simon and Cuban president Fidel Castro.
John Haller, SIU vice president for academic affairs, saw those efforts wasting away a few months ago, when word came the university’s research license would not be renewed. Appealing the rejection was always part of the plan; Haller said he is just surprised it worked.
“What helped me on this is something I did not anticipate,” Haller said. “We had two students essentially stuck over there (in Cuba).”
Haller said one anthropology student’s research was cut short by the license’s rejection, while another Cuban student couldn’t come to the Carbondale campus, even though she had financial aid already in place.
Haller said he worked with a university lobbyist in Washington, D.C., to get the message across that Cuba was an important aspect of SIU’s research itinerary.
SIU’s efforts caught the attention of both U.S. Reps. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, also helped in the renewal process.