By Terry Rombeck | Journal-World
Chuck Berg likes Cuban movies, art, food, music and baseball
Now, thanks to a travel license granted to Kansas University, Berg will have the opportunity to see the Caribbean island nation for himself and to research its arts scene.
“What a great opportunity,” said Berg, a professor of theater and film. “And in the process, if we diffuse some of the political tensions and loosen some of the government strictures in terms of travel, everybody gains.”
KU now is one of 200 American universities with a travel license to Cuba from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It’s the only university in Kansas with such a license.
Diana Carlin, dean of international programs, said it took KU more than two years to complete the necessary paperwork and interviews for the approval. KU received an initial two-year license and will be able to apply for renewal afterward.
“It’s a place a lot of people are very interested in visiting and studying,” Carlin said. “We’re always looking for places for students to study, especially Spanish students studying abroad. Those programs are always full.”
The U.S. government has restricted travel to the communist nation for much of the time since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Currently, travel is only allowed for U.S. citizens involved in specific activities, such as education, humanitarian efforts and religious events.
Carlin said KU must follow strict guidelines set by the U.S. Treasury Department for paperwork, procedures and travel arrangements.
She said the first KU trips to Cuba will come in December, when a group of students will travel to Havana for six days to attend the 25th annual International Festival of Latin American Film. The students will be involved in a “Cuban Cinema” course taught by Tamara Falicov, assistant professor of theater and film.
At the same time, Carlin said, a group of faculty members will travel to Cuba to look for research and academic possibilities there. One possibility, she said, is a monthlong internship for medical students preparing for their residency programs.
She said having Americans study in Cuba could help break down barriers between the two nations. But she said she didn’t expect the political situation there to cause problems for KU students.
“I don’t see this as any different than sending students to China or sending them to Russia when it was still a Communist country,” she said. “Education goes both ways, and people learn from Americans also. It can be goodwill from that point of view.”
Berg, the theater and film professor, said he thought many KU faculty and students would be interested in traveling to Cuba.
“There really is a pent-up curiosity about Cuba, its culture and its economic potentials, both from the business community, in education and from sight-seers who just want to get to Cuba,” he said. “And there’s a very strong argument that such exchanges end up creating a more favorable political climate to allow governments to start interacting more fully, more completely with better recognition.”
Political activism aside, Berg said he knew what he’d like to do when he got to Havana.
“I’d love to see a baseball game in Cuba and then go out and hear Cuban jazz and Cuban salsa,” he said.