December 28, 2006
By Bruce Edwards Rutland Herald
Some Burlington College students could be heading to Cuba as early as
next year as part of a new semester abroad program.
"We worked out a tentative arrangement with the University of Havana to
send students there next fall or in the spring (2008) to study any
program they want to study," said Sandy Baird, one of several Burlington
College faculty members who returned this month from a week-long trip to
Baird said college officials now will "negotiate the fine points" of the
deal that would send a minimum of five students to Cuba for a semester.
"The program requires a lot of assistance on their part and also
requires us to send a resident director there as well for proper
supervision," said Baird, director the school's Institute of Civic
Because of the 46-year-old trade and travel embargo of the communist
island of 11.4 million people, any business, educational or cultural
contact with Cuba requires U.S. government approval.
The Bush administration has made it more difficult to forge educational
ties with Cuba, discouraging many colleges from setting up or continuing
Burlington College already has in place the necessary approval from the
U.S. Department of the Treasury to establish the program. A Treasury
Department license is required for any travel or activ-ity requiring the
expenditure of U.S. dollars in Cuba.
The college also is working on an arrangement with the Ludwig Foundation
to incorporate an arts and culture component for students in Cuba.
Baird said student cost for the Cuba semester abroad program would be in
line with the college's other overseas study programs.
Deb Ellis, a part-time faculty member who also teaches film at
Middlebury College, made the trip as well. Ellis spent part of the trip
with a small video camera in eastern Oriente Province, where Fidel
Castro established his guerilla movement in the Sierra Maestra Mountains.
Ellis, whose 2004 film, "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving
Train," was screened last year at the Havana Film Festival, was
gathering background footage for a possible film on Cuba.
She was introduced to the remote area by Florida cattle broker John
Parke Wright IV. It was Wright who last year arranged the first shipment
of Vermont cows to the island.
Ellis also visited Maria Antonia's el Alcazar farm — the only privately
owned farm in Cuba.
"It's a pretty interesting history to have a farm out there run by a
woman who grew up with the ruling elite who was allowed to keep her
farm," she said.
Both Baird and Ellis said Cubans they talked to voiced concern about
life after Fidel Castro and the intentions of the United States. The
ailing 80-year old ruler temporarily ceded power this summer to his
younger brother, Raul.
"These young people were very uneasy about what the (United States)
might do," Baird said.
In addition to Baird and Ellis, other faculty members who made the trip
were Anna Blackmer, humanities chairwoman, and Dean Michael Sherman. The
delegation also will include the president of the Cuban-American
Friendship Society, which is based in Burlington.