Saturday, March 04, 2017

Cuba Beyond the Cusp of Change: Reflections on a Week Long Penn State Graduate Course in Cuba

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

It is my great privilege to have been encouraged to design and hold a week long embedded course program through Pennsylvania State University. My thanks to the office of the Penn State Office of the Vice Provost for Global Programs, Michael Adewumi and Kate Manni, Assistant Director for Embedded Programs, for making this possible.  Thanks as well to  Scott Gartner, the Director, Penn State School of International Affairs, and special thanks to Claudia Prieto (SIA Academic Adviser and Student Services Coordinator) and Rachel Arnold (Assistant to the Financial Officer, Penn State Law/SIA), without whose help and encouragement this program would not have happened. Great thanks as well to our hosts in Cuba, the Centro de Estudios Martianos that went out of its way to enrich the course and the experiences of our students.

This is the first of a series of posts that will develop reflections both on the teaching of embedded programs in Cuba, generally, but more specifically as a way of documenting the way my students and see see Cuba today.  For many years Cuba and its political order was said to be on the "cusp of change" (e.g., here).  Since the start of normalization of relations with the United States, it is quite evident that Cuba has now moved beyond the "cusp" and into the realities of integration within a global system to which it has had both privileged access and been excluded over the last half century.  The re-adjustments in both respects will mark the trajectory of Cuban life for the next generation (compare here, with here). 

I start with the embedded course syllabus (INTAF 597C Penn State SIA) and then will post reflections for each day of the journey through the course materials and within Cuba.  The hope is that this provides some food for thought respecting the necessary evolution of political and economic systems, and the constraints within which systems change or expend great energy to stay the same.

1. This post considers our activities on Day 1--Viñales and the Tourist Sector.

2. This post considers our activities on Day 2--Plaza de la Revolución and Lecture, The Thought of José Martí: Political Ideology of Cuba.
3.  This post considers our activities on Day 3--Cuban Health Sectors, Cuban cemeteries, and Cuban Social Structures From a National and Regional Trade Perspective.
 4a.  This post considers our activities on Day 4 Morning--Organization of the Cuban State and the Economic Model of Cuba.
4b. This post considers our activities on Day 4 Afternoon--We  Get to Feel LikeCubans—The Saratoga Hotel Refuses to Let Me and My U.S: Students Enter theirLobby—The Cuban People are Owed an Apology.
 5. This post considers our activities on Day 5--The Future Direction of Cuba: From the Guidelines of the 6th PCC Congress (2011) to the Conceptualzación of the Cuban Socialist Model of the 7th PCC Congress (2016).
6. This post considers our activities on Day 6--Visitto the Organopónico de Alamar.

7.  This post considers our activities on Day 7--Varadero and the Tourist Sector.
 8. This post considers our activities on Day 8--Reflections on the Flight Home.
9.  This post serves as an Executive Summary of the Program, Activities and Reflections on Our Experiences.

Rationale: Most programs abroad, or programs with an embedded travel component have traditionally been tied to a specific course at a specific university. The reasons for this are efficiency and the need to develop a legitimate and coherent credit structure. But that limits the availability of embedded courses to students enrolled in the “embedding” course. The object here is to create an embedded experience that is detached from specific courses of study. The embedded program would offer a week of lectures and visits in Cuba that would provide a rigorous introduction to the history, law, politics, contemporary intellectual currents, regulatory environment and policy, and culture of Cuba.

However, students are encouraged to use the course as a way of acquiring knowledge and experience that can be applied to their own programs of study. The object is to provide substantial flexibility for students in designing their course of study and creating coherent linkages, while developing a coherent and rich stand-alone program of study of Cuba. Students will be graded on the basis of a substantial research paper appropriate in length for the award of one credit under Penn State rules. See Grading, below.

Program Contents: The program is designed to provide the student with a substantial introduction to the ideological foundations of the Cuban economic, social, legal and cultural order in the context of globalization and the Caribbean region. The specific focus is on Cuban economic law and regulatory policy—especially interesting in this period of transition and reform. The goal is to provide a strong grounding in the Cuban perspective on issues of law and policy in a variety of areas that will be especially relevant to international affairs, law, and business students. This objective will be met through a combination of lecture and site visits. Anticipate morning lectures, followed by lunch and then excursions to sites of interest.

The course itinerary and schedule of lectures and site visits follows. In addition, the program anticipates the opportunity to meet and discuss issues with students from the University of Havana

Program Home Base: The Program is housed in the Martí Center. It has excellent facilities and substantial historical and research materials on José Martí, and Cuban history, law and politics. Students are welcome to make use of those facilities, as well as those of other libraries to which the Martí Center may have access. It is anticipated that lunch will be provided most days at the Martí Center.

Communication: Communication within Cuba is substantially more difficult and more expensive than in the United States. U.S. mobile phones are likely not work to in Cuba, though some have been able to use their phones. The best rule of thumb is not to count on it. Direct phone calls tend to be expensive. Generally, internet may be purchased in the hotel and may be provided elsewhere. It is expensive. Students will bear the costs of their own internet and telecommunications use. Calls to the U.S. use the prefix 001 followed by the number and the area code. To make a collect call also known as a reverse charge call from Skype dial 001 844 759 7363, then enter the number to be reached and state your name.

Crime and safety Issues: Students will be provided with country specific State Department Country report which may also be accessed through the State Department website on the link provided. Students will also be provided with a country specific OSAC Crime Report, which may also be accessed through this link (enter destination country – crime and safety reports will be displayed in the country search results). Students are encouraged to use other resources for travel advice like the UK Foreign Office, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or Canadian Government. Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and check for useful tips for traveling safely abroad. In the event of an emergency, contact program faculty. You can contact the U.S. State Department at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.

Country Specific Issues: Cuba is a relatively safe country with respect to personal crime. But Cuba is also a Marxist Leninist state with, from the perspective of the political culture of the United States and other Western states, a set of strong restrictions on assembly and political activities. Political activities and political subversion tend to be broadly defined. And students are cautioned to be circumspect in their actions and discussions with locals.

Health: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Health Information for Travelers to Cuba” is available at this link:

A note about Zika: This from the CDC—local mosquito transmission of Zika virus infection (Zika) has been reported in Cuba. Local mosquito transmission means that mosquitoes in the area are infected with Zika virus and are spreading it to people. Because Zika virus is primarily spread by mosquitoes, CDC recommends that travelers to Cuba protect themselves from mosquito bites

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Learning Outcomes and Assessment:

Student learning outcomes assessment will be evaluated through the production of a substantial research paper including substantial elements of knowledge acquisition acquired through Program lectures and site visits.

The Program’s learning outcomes are these:
1. Basic knowledge of Cuban history, politics, political and legal organization;

2. Basic knowledge of Cuban ideological foundations, with an emphasis on the importance of José Martí to that development;

3. Introduction to Cuban economic regionalism;

4. Basic introduction to U.S.-Cuba relations and the process of normalization;

5. Basic knowledge of Cuban economic policy and its interaction with global trade and economic systems.
Class Attendance and Participation: Attendance is required for all program activities. It is expected that each student will contribute materially to class discussion and engagement in site visits.

Conferences: Faculty will be on site and available. Before and after the trip faculty will also be available for face to face meeting or via phone or email. You are encouraged to contact me by e-mail. I will respond promptly.

Grading: All students will be graded on the basis of the completion of a substantial research paper reflecting their study in Cuba. The paper must be no less than 20 pages typed (including footnotes). The expectation is that local research will be undertaken in Cuba, followed by research, as needed to complete the paper. Paper topics and outlines will be developed and approved during the course of study in Cuba. 

(Pix © Larry Catá Backer 2015)

Program of Lectures and Site Visits

March 4:         11:55 am arrive in Havana;
                          3:30 Tour of Old Havana and Welcome dinner

March 5:          Tourist Sector--Excursion to Viñales

March 6:          

09:30               Salida para el Memorial José Martí
12:00               Almuerzo included
14:00               Recibimiento en el CEM
14:30               The Thought of José Martí: Political Ideology of Cuba. Dr. Jorge Lozano

March 7:   

09:30            Colón Cemetary and introduction to the architecture of Cuba
11:15            Lecture—Results of Medical Research in Cuba  . Dr. Manuel Raices
12:00           Almuerzo included
14:30            Lecture—Regional Commerce: ALBA, Martí, Bolívar y Fidel  Dr. Larry Backer

March 8:

 9:00           Lecture—Implementation of the Cuban economic model: Agriculture and Tourism.
                   Dra. Yainelis Mulet
11:00          Lecture—History of Cuba: Population, and governmental Structures.
                   Dr. Hassan  Pérez
12:30          Almuerzo included
14:30          Visit local and community development proyecto Muraleando de desarrollo

March 9:  

 9:00          Visits to Regla and the Castyillo de Tres Moros; 
Lecture—The future direction of Cuba: From the Guidelines of the 6th PCC  Congress  to the Conceptualization of the Cuban Socialist Model of the 7th PCCCongress.
                  Dr. Larry Backer
12:00         Almuerzo included
14:30         Visit Universidad de Habana and meeting with students.

March 10:

 10:00       Visit to the Organopónico de Alamar
 12:00       Almuerzo en organopónico included

March 11
08:30         Departure for Tourist Sector Visit Varadero Beach. Meeting con Gerente

March 12:        Return to U.S.

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