I read with fascination the Oct. 7 cover story, “Princeton in Havana.” In the fall semester of 1999, I was a preceptor for Professor Paul Sigmund’s “Latin American Politics” course. My precept students read with some disbelief articles comparing public health in Cuba and the United States, showing that such a poor country had lower infant- and maternal-mortality rates than in much of the United States. We discussed at length the benefits and costs of Castro’s brand of communism.
At some point I suggested that we go to Cuba and see for ourselves. Several students leapt at the idea, although travel to Cuba was tightly restricted. Not knowing what to expect, I promised to take them to Cuba if they did the hard work of obtaining visas and State Department approvals, which they accomplished with the aid of the Program in Latin American Studies.
Eventually, some 12 to 15 students and I flew into Havana for a 10-day “spring break,” studying at the University of Havana each morning, followed by free time to explore Havana in the afternoon and evening. It was a great trip, and what we assumed would be the start of a long-term “Princeton in Cuba” program. Alas, the next year turned out to be the last, due to additional restrictions imposed by the Bush administration. Thankfully, President Obama has made an opening to Cuba a signature achievement of his second term. And my congratulations to Princeton for establishing a study-abroad program in that much-misunderstood neighbor of ours.