The Philosophy Department ran a course in Cuba, entitled "Development Ethics" from 2001 until 2005. The course was cancelled in 2005 for reasons that are still unclear.

Instructor's Reports
April 28 - May 12, 2001
The Trip - May 2001

IDIS 309* April 27- May 11, 2002
Report - May 2003

IDIS 309*, April 28- May 12, 2001

History of the Course at Queen's

The University of Havana attracts foreign students because Cuba is relatively safe, stable, inexpensive and close, and has a well-developed higher education system. Many Canadian and American universities have academic programs at and exchanges with the University of Havana . Such programs promote internationalization goals and, in particular, respond to students' interests in better understanding the situation in Latin America and acquiring Spanish language skills.

I developed a course to be held at the University of Havana called “Development Ethics”, with support from the Development Studies program at Queen's. Philosophy has in fact become important to Development Studies because there are questions about what “development” means. Such questions are recognized in the United Nations' discussions about the Human Development Index. Amartya Sen, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1999, has argued for the importance of Philosophy in such debates, as have also other economists (e.g. Peter Roman, Ken Cole). Yet although Philosophy has recently begun to play and to be recognized as playing a role in Development studies and programs, there are challenges involved in orienting Philosophy students toward development issues, since these are best pursued in interdisciplinary programs. IDIS 309* was intended as a Philosophy course, to be crossed with Development Studies. The course involves challenges because of its location off-campus but also because of its interdisciplinary nature. Thus, its success can provide resources for raising and answering some of the questions involved in pursuing objectives of internationalization and interdisciplinarity at Queen's.

IDIS 309* addresses issues in Development Ethics by considering particular topics - culture, participation, the situation of women, priorities of democratic procedure – involved in the measure of development, specifically from the perspective of the situation of Latin America. It is certainly the case that students in this course learn particularly about Cuba , but the aim is that students see how the case of Cuba is the case of any developing country. That is, while in some ways Cuba's developmental path has been different from that of other Latin American countries, the aim is for students to understand some of the common problems faced by developing countries - for example, the struggle for independence - to which Cuba 's distinctive efforts have been a response. Lectures are given by distinguished members of the Cuban Philosophical Association at the University of Havana . Thalía Fung, president of the Philosophical Association and Rubén Zardoya, dean of the Faculty of History and Philosophy, have been the principal contacts in the realization of the course organization. I requested specific instructors on the basis of what I know about their work. In one case, I requested a lecture from someone from outside the Faculty. Mayra Vilasís is a film producer and director, and I asked her to speak about the history of film in Cuba and its role in the development of cultural identity. I spoke with each instructor about the objectives of the course, the expectations and knowledge-level of our students, and the connections I wanted to make between the different topics. Many of the instructors gave me outlines in advance, in order that I could put them on our web-page for the students.

With the exception of Mayra Vilasís, who speaks English fluently, all lectures were in Spanish, with translation. I served as interpreter for the lectures and most of the excursions. The benefit of my having this role is that I could fill things in. Being more familiar with the students' expectations and background, I could explain terms or references with which they would not be familiar, or I could ask the speaker to explain. For instance, one speaker made reference to the popular militias, a concept Canadian students usually have not encountered. The point being made would not have been understandable by our students without an explanation of this term. I was following the example of Claude Morin at the University of Montreal who, as head of the History department, has taken groups of students for two weeks at the UH for credit toward their History degree. Claude Morin also does the interpreting for his group and had explained to me the pedagogical advantage of taking on this job himself.

Voyages Culturels Cuba , of Montreal , did all the logistical work for us. Its president, Arnold August, has excellent contacts at the University of Havana , knows Cuba very well and is skilled at arranging fair prices for students. There were a few glitches with the timing of a few of the excursions but these were worked out. Some changes will be made in 2002. It is possible that we will not plan as many excursions for Spring, 2002, in order that there be a bit more free time for rest and reflection.

In order for the course to go ahead in 2001 at the price we had arranged, we needed commitments from 20 students. We received, surprisingly, 50 applications from students from a variety of different programs, and were able to select 25. We asked students to write an essay explaining their reasons and we looked for students who were serious about the educational value of the trip. This will be done again for May 2002. Only a few students knew some Spanish and only a few had been to Latin America or the Caribbean . Some had never been out of Canada . In the end, there were 27 students, as we included one graduate student from Policy Studies and a student from the University of Montreal (since their course was cancelled this year).

The primary objective of the course was that students understand something about the importance and difficulty of respecting and incorporating into their analyses of global issues the perspectives of the developing world. As is explained in the course syllabus, we expected the students to learn, not just from the lectures and excursions but from their conversations, interactions and daily experiences. We considered this course to constitute a realization of the Faculty's goals for new and deeper sorts of learning experiences. As can be imagined, Cuba is a challenging experience at several levels. In predeparture lectures, I tried to identify some of the challenges they would meet. Next year, after the experience of this year, this task will be easier.

(Back to Top)


The trip, May 2001

Many students have commented upon the very intense nature of their two-week learning experience. For my part, I was quite impressed by this group of students, who took the course very seriously. There was not a single student missing from any of the classes or excursions, except for one or two times when someone told us they felt unwell and stayed back. Moreover, I was told before I left and by several who wrote to me after I returned, that professors and administrators at the UH were impressed by our group. Thalía Fung told me that ours was one of the best student groups she had received, and she has received quite a few. The students asked a lot of questions, even (or perhaps especially) about complex, controversial issues. They asked questions respectfully and seriously, and they received full answers. It seemed that the students took very seriously the challenge of engaging fairly and of being aware of stereotypes and their implications. We had suggested to the students that they should approach issues such as human rights, democracy, freedom, etc. as they would any controversial topic or experience: ask questions, find out what the arguments are for the answers and then draw conclusions about the reasons and evidence supporting each side. The challenge, as in any situation of rational debate, is to understand your opponent well enough that you yourself can defend his/her view, and then advance your arguments with that defense in mind. Of course, in Cuba , students would mostly hear the Cuban point of view, but that is part of the point of the course since it is not as easy to get access to their line of argument. One of the goals of the course, clearly shared by the students who participated, is that we can become aware of alternative perspectives, and their explanation, and approach our own problems of development with somewhat greater sensitivity and breadth of vision. According to the reports, it seems that many of the students were intellectually mature enough to realize that the most intriguing issues are too complex to draw clear conclusions about after two weeks, although they probably gained some deeper insight into the sorts of questions that need to be asked.

It was my impression that the students in this course were also quite conscientious about recognizing the complexities of interpersonal relationships in a situation in which they are rich, and regarded as rich. Forming respectful, collegial relationships in such a context can be challenging and certainly constitutes part of what we might call the “experiential” learning. We had anticipated that exchanges between Queen's students and their counterparts at the UH would be one of the most valuable aspects of the course, and had arranged for our students to spend time with students from the Federation of University Students (FEU) at the UH. They organized some meetings and activities, went out together at night and spent a lot of time on the patio of the Colina Hotel, where we stayed, in conversation. As we expected, the contact with UH students was valued by the Queen's students. Two of our students, Sarah Miller and Julia Ostertag, were interviewed by a reporter from Radio Progreso (it was broadcast across the country) who was interested in the situation of youth in Canada , their impressions of Cuba and in how their experiences in Cuba compared with what they had heard about Cuba in Canada . Students and professors at the UH were also very interested in how Canadian students perceived the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City . A group of our students gave an informal presentation about their experiences in Quebec and their understanding of the issues involved.

The Queen's group participated in public events on May 1. Participation was optional, of course, but it turned out that everyone participated in the activities, even though they had to be ready at 7am and everything was in Spanish. From reports, it is evident that the experience of such a large public, festive gathering was impacting, perhaps especially because the students heard and saw the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, speak.

We organized the excursions to coincide with the lectures. Each day except one, we had afternoon excursions that were in fact on-site lectures. On two evenings, we had special additional presentations. Beside museums and monuments at which they learned more about the history and social structures, we were able to visit a number of important institutions. These visits were made possible for us by the Faculty of History and Philosophy at the University of Havana . It is not easy to organize visits to these particular centers. At the new School of Social Workers , the Latin American Medical School and the International School of Sport, our group was able to see something about recently instituted projects aimed at resolving some of the serious educational, social and health problems facing Latin America . As well, these centers are part of an effort toward achieving greater collaboration and unity amongst developing countries and marginalized communities within developed countries in resolving common problems. At each of these centers, our students were able to meet and converse with students at the institution. The Medical School and the Sport School have students from outside Cuba , mostly from rural areas of Latin American countries and from Africa . There were a number of references in the lectures to the significance for Latin America , and the South generally, of developing a sense of solidarity and identity as part of the struggle for independence. Another productive excursion was that to the Higher Institute of Art (el ISA). Having heard so much about the developing world's grinding struggle for daily survival, it is striking for North Americans to see so many Cuban students dedicated to music, dance, sculpture, theatre in impressive surroundings.

The faculty and staff of the University of Havana were exceptional in their treatment of our group. They gave us the best rooms and were very generous with their time. There were several lectures after which students made arrangements to speak further with the lecturer. This happened, for instance, with Rigoberto Pupo Pupo, who lectured about 19th century Cuban philosopher and poet José Martí. Jorge Lamadrid, who used to work at the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa, and who is now director of North American relations at MINREX (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), received our group for 1 ? hours at the MINREX reception hall and explained and took questions about the relations between Canada and Cuba, and the US and Cuba. I also arranged for the students to spend an evening with American journalist Gail Reed, author of Island in the Storm (Ocean Press) who spoke about her experiences as an American living in Cuba . Surprisingly to some, there are in fact large numbers of Americans in the US and in Cuba who do regular business with Cuba , and who work hard challenging the policies of their government. For some students, the talk with Gail Reed was the one of the most impressive.

I am quite encouraged by the success of this trip. There is certainly no doubt about the enthusiasm of university students for such an opportunity. It seems clear that students recognize that in order to be effective citizens of the world, whatever careers they choose, as is the university's goal, they need to understand something about the “developing” world. Several students have written letters to the administration expressing their appreciation of the educational value of such a course. Moreover, there will undoubtedly be positive consequences for our student body at Queen's of the presence in our classes of students returning from such educational experiences.

(Back to Top)


IDIS 309*, April 27- May 11, 2002

Organization: There were 32 students in the group. I had a top limit of 30 students, which was filled easily with serious Queen's students with clear, informed interest in the course content. I added two non-Queen's students after the deadline (both actually entering Queen's in September) that I considered (correctly as it turns out) capable of contributing positively to the group. About 40 students applied for the course in January and about ten more wrote to me after the deadline, asking if they could still apply. Most students said that they had heard about the course from students who attended last year. Like last year, the students who applied were of high standing and were from a variety of disciplines, including Engineering, Chemistry and Computer Sciences. Most students were from Philosophy and Development Studies, with many more from Philosophy this year than in 2001.

I had two assistants, Nadine Waldman (4th year, DEVS) and Helen Anderson (MA, Phil). Nadine and Helen were very good at keeping track of their work and of problems and suggestions that arose, which will be useful for next year. They even carried out two surveys (predeparture and prereturn), which they have summarized and organized to provide resources for next year.

The course was organized as in 2001, with two 3-hour predeparture lectures at Queen's and lectures each morning from 9-12 at the University of Havana (with the exception of May 1, which is a public holiday). The afternoon excursions actually constituted on-site lectures. One thing I did differently this year was to let the students visit museums and monuments on their own (e.g. the Museum of the Revolution, the Museum of Fine Arts , the José Martí monument). The excursions that we did as a group were all to institutions (Latin American School of Medical Sciences, University of Fine Arts, International School of Sport, School of Social Workers, Ministry of International Relations, Martin Luther King Centre, Agricultural Cooperative at Nueva Paz) at which we received presentations by directors of the institutions and at which our students often had the opportunity to converse with their counterparts. All lectures and excursions, and question and answer sessions were translated into English, mostly by myself.

The Trip: Like last year, I was impressed with the group of students who attended the course. I had considered the possibility that we were just lucky last year but this year's group was just as conscientious, respectful and intellectually serious as the group last year. For the entire two weeks of the course, students were all present at 9am (even though quite a few often went out at night) for the lectures and took care to inform us if, as happened only rarely, they did not attend an afternoon or evening event for some reason. The importance of being present at lectures, and on time, is emphasized strongly in the predeparture sessions. I have told students that the long-term success of the course depends on their efforts in this regard, as I am not willing to ask University of Havana professors to sacrifice their time for us, given all the difficulties they confront daily there during the economic crisis, if students are not taking it seriously.

The weather was very hot (between 32 and 35 the entire two weeks) and conditions (e.g. internet access, noise levels) are not the same as here. Students had been told that it would be hot but sometimes people don't realize how such heat can affect them. There were no complaints (at least not to me) and whatever minor frustrations and problems that arose seemed to be taken in stride.

Students also realize very quickly that the perspectives and debates they encounter are not easy to categorize (that, for instance, not everything falls into socialism vs. capitalism oppositions). They also realize that issues they have read about here, and the history that explains them, are urgent to the people with whom they are interacting. This realization of the importance of issues is part of what we call experiential learning. It is possible that some students are not fully aware before they come of the serious political differences that exist within our hemisphere. In the second week of classes, with more experience and knowledge, there were more questions about why the US acts as it does toward Cuba . We tried to encourage students not to treat differences of views as confrontations, but as opportunities to enrich their own views about freedom and democracy by understanding how some people can think differently, and make arguments to that end.

As in 2001, students were reminded that the objective of the course is not to take one side or other (for one can be inclined to think this if one has not realized before that there is a real conflict) but to appreciate some part of the difficulty of taking an informed and fair argumentative role in the debate when conceptual and political differences are so deep and longstanding. WE remind them that no one – in Canada or Cuba – defends seriously the view that the world will be a better place if we all think the same thing. Instead, many serious politicians and intellectuals – in Canada and Cuba – defend the view that we need to find ways to work together with respect and understanding of different national agendas.

One of the principal challenges of such a course for students of many disciplines is appreciation of the complexity of issues in Cuba and Latin America . The course is intended to provide an opportunity for recognizing such complexity. We sometimes unselfconsciously simplify issues when they are about other cultures or societies. For instance, people sometimes think they can find out rather easily whether Cuba is or is not free, is or is not democratic, is or is not socialist. I had pointed out in the predeparture lecture that in the case of Canada , we do not expect answers to such broad questions to be easy. Many of us assume that as regards questions about democracy, freedom, good governance, etc., Canada does some things well and some things not so well, and we do research and have debates in order to find out what these are. We also rely, at least in part, upon experts: We would not expect in the case of Canada – or England, United States or France – that we can find out exactly how well-governed the country is by asking just anyone we meet in the street, although we can learn something from such conversations. We would probably also do research, finding out as well what political scientists say. But it is sometimes difficult for people to attribute to Cuba , or to other more unfamiliar societies, the same degree of complexity and capacity for processes of irregular advancement involving error and recognition of error. As scholars we need to learn how to identify, manage and appreciate complexity.

I had told the students, which is true, that the professors at the UH are appreciative of any questions, and that I have never seen a question from a foreigner treated as na?ve. So our students asked a lot of questions – about human rights, democracy, freedom, etc. – and they got answers, sometimes long ones. When one student told me she did not understand the answer given to a question she raised in class, I suggested that she should have pursued her line of questioning. For sometimes it is as we investigate the reasons for such difficulties in understanding that we discover instructive philosophical differences. This is useful for the Cuban professors as well as for us, as we try to engage constructively about common national and international Development concerns. As before, the hope for this course is that students come to understand something about how, specifically, fundamental questions about development are complicated by an understanding of the particular historical, social and economic realities of Third World countries. The aim is that they understand something about the process of formulating questions about the questions that structure Development debates, or at least about some of the concepts involved in such questions.

(Back to Top)


Report, May 2003

For the third time (see previous reports at this web site), I accompanied a group of Queen's students to the University of Havana for a half-credit course in Development Ethics. More than fifty students wanted to go this year, as has been the case of the past two years. I took 35, which was the maximum number I could take, given the size of the bus we would use in Havana . This year we went to Cuba at a time of considerable tension. A few weeks before our trip, the media began to refer to “exiles fleeing the regime” and a “wave of repression” in Cuba . This was because 75 people had been arrested in Cuba , charged with receiving money from the U.S. for activities against the Cuban government and economy. There had also been a series of hijackings in Cuba and 3 people had been executed, after summary trials, for hijacking a passenger ferry. As usual, the press confused some issues, suggesting that three people had been executed for expressing opinions against the government. As usual, it was difficult to get full information about the situation. Some students expressed concern. The DFAIT travel Report for Cuba had not changed, showing no risk, and I suggested to students that the controversy provides an opportunity to learn the challenges of fair evaluation and argument in a situation in which we usually get just one version of what occurred, or if we do get the Cubans' responses to criticism, they are truncated, and unhelpful. Fortunately, students applying for this course are generally aware enough of the way in which the media manipulates information about Cuba that many were already seeking out other sources on the internet, in particular, the Cuban responses to the accusations.

Precisely because of the ferocious media campaign against Cuba, even supported by former friends of Cuba, like Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, much admired by Latin Americanists, it was a good time to take students to Cuba. The purpose of the course, after all, is that students learn to engage fairly and respectfully, in discussions about shared problems of Development, with those whose perspectives and situations are different from our own. One of the challenges of fair and respectful dialogue, especially regarding situations in Latin America , is awareness of stereotypical representation of such peoples in the media and within popular discussion. Students of Development Studies and Philosophy learn to be aware of implicit prejudicial presuppositions informing the interpretation of information in controversial issues. Especially if students have studied feminism, anti-racism or issues about the Third World , they know about the role of uncritical expectations in what we think needs to be explained and what does not. Of course it is sometimes hard to identify such assumptions. Thus, Cuba provides some interesting challenges for fairness in understanding. Students who take this course understand that the issue is not about taking one side or other in a conflict of views: instead, it is about how to do research and engage in debate about shared problems with respect and fairness when those with whom we collaborate are different from us in ways requiring critical awareness. In past years, students have appreciated the opportunity to study in Cuba in particular because of the possibility it provides for dealing with the consequences of distortion.

We had not been in Cuba long before we realized how tense the situation is, and how real the threats of aggression toward Cuba . Especially if one knows the history of the relations between the US and Cuba, one understands why, in Cuba, threats of military aggression, such as have been expressed recently by a number of American administrators, are taken seriously. On the surface, things seemed calm, but the students learned, through the lectures, conversations and excursions, that the situation is indeed critical. There are several points that became evident that matter to the evaluation of the current situation and the treatment Cuba is receiving in the press in North America and Europe . The first is that the issue is hijacking of commercial planes and boats. There had been 5 hijackings in two weeks, 7 in 7 months. This is what happened on September 11, 2001 , but in the case of Cuba , people hijacking planes and boats, with knives and guns, are not called “terrorists” but rather “exiles fleeing the regime”. Moreover, there had been 29 hijacking plots discovered and under investigation. These attacks, and plots, originated from anti-Cuba groups on U.S. territory and those responsible for hijackings, once arrived in Miami , had not been prosecuted.

We were received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by our friend, Camilo García, who used to be here at the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa . Camilo's boss, Rafael Dausá, director of North American relations, spoke to the group. Dausá is, of course, directly involved in trying to negotiate issues related to the hijackings, and the activities of James Cason, who is the equivalent of US ambassador in Cuba . Dausá explained that the US has declared and declares that disorderly, uncontrollable immigration from Cuba will be considered a threat to US security. And yet they do not prosecute those who hijack planes from Cuba and land in Florida , thereby encouraging such attempts. He explained also that another worrying sign is that the US, which is committed through immigration agreements with Cuba, to offer 20,000 visas a year to Cubans wanting to emigrate to the US, has so far this year, after six months (since the year begins in October) offered only 700, thus forcing those wanting to emigrate to do so illegally. Many people in the US and Canada do not know that, because of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1962, Cubans (in contrast to any other group on the planet) receive automatic permanent residency when they reach US soil. Haitians, for instance, arrived in the hundreds last Fall and were all sent back. The worry in Cuba is that after encouraging illegal immigration, the anti-Cuba Miami groups will pressure the US government to destroy the Migration Agreements, established since 1994, thereby encouraging more illegal migration. Massive migration, or the appearance of it, can provide a pretext for military action by the US because they can claim that it is a threat to national security. This is the worry we heard expressed.

There have apparently been fewer Cubans arriving illegally in Florida than a year ago, but everyone who arrives is getting a lot of media attention.

The second point regarding recent condemnations is that Cuba relied upon its legal system, which includes the institution of summary trials, to convict and execute three people for hijacking a passenger ferry. It happened quickly because the institution of summary trials allows for rapid judgment. This institution apparently exists in 100 countries, including in the US . There is a difference between, on the one hand, criticizing a judicial system and, on the other, making a charge of extrajudicial killings. Extrajudicial killings are killings that happen without any process of justice, that is, without following the established laws and procedures of the country, whatever they are. Extrajudicial killings occur in the Latin American region, but Cuba has not been accused of such by international agencies or by the Human Rights Commission. For this reason, the Human Rights Commission in Geneva defeated a US-backed motion to condemn Cuba for the executions, 31 votes to 15. This vote had not been reported in the press.

When we went to the School of Social Workers , at Cojímar, Professor Azares, who has received us for the past two years, said as I got off the bus, “You've come again, even though many of our friends are turning against us”. We heard many references to the condemnation of writers like Galeano and (Portuguese writer) José Saramago, who were previously friends of Cuba . But we also heard a lot of criticism from Cubans of the death penalty. Many in Cuba oppose the death penalty, and some opposed it in this particular case. It was clear, though, that the situation had become unbearable in the case of the repeated hijackings. It was also clear that the executions had been carried out according to pre-established laws, even if rarely used. Camilo, for instance, said that many were sad at what has happened, but that the situation with the hijacking and provocations had become extreme, to the point that people were afraid to get into buses.

At the Martin Luther King Centre, we were received by Reverend Raul Suárez, director of the Centre. Unfortunately I did not know in advance that Raul Suárez himself would receive us; otherwise, I would have been able to prepare the students for such an honour. Raul Suárez is someone whose work I have much admired and who is a well-known personality in Cuba . He is a Baptist minister, who fought for the importance of religion in Cuba in the early years of the Revolution and has since changed the practices of his church to meet the needs of the Cuban population. He explained that the Baptist church, of which he has been Reverend since the 60s, had mostly appealed to white people, whereas the majority of the people in the area of the church were black, so they have changed the practices and the message. The MLKC addresses issues about racism, often in collaboration with American churches and anti-racist groups, from which they have received much support. Raul Suárez is member of the Cuban national parliament, having been elected as delegate by 100% of the constituency where he lives, and is highly regarded in Cuba and abroad.

One student asked me afterward why it is that, in Canada , they always say there is no religious freedom in Cuba when Suárez had just been explaining not that he had a church but rather what had been accomplished through the church. He is also, being a reverend, a member of the government. I told the student that it was a good question, one to be pursued. I have found that one of the things that impacts students the most when they come to Cuba is to discover, not just that information about Cuba is distorted in Canada , but that some of what is reported about Cuba is just false.

One of our students asked Reverend Suárez what he thought about the statement by American Reverend Lucius Walker, at the May 1 activities in Havana , that Cuba should abolish the death penalty. Suárez answered that it had been his Foundation that had invited Lucius Walker to speak on May Day and that in fact it is the position of the Martin Luther King Center that the death penalty be abolished. Suárez said that as a member of the Cuban National parliament, he had condemned the death penalty and had proposed that it be abolished. For three years after that opposition at the National Assembly, there had been a moratorium on executions. He said that he was against the recent application of the death penalty, and that he had said so publicly. However, he added that anyone who condemns Cuba for using the death penalty must also condemn the United States for its campaign of terror against Cuba . He said that to condemn Cuba now for applying the death penalty, when the US has essentially declared war on much of the Third World , is irresponsible. He reminded us that President Bush has threatened 60 countries “in the dark corners of the Earth” with military action, having identified them as terrorist threats. In Suárez's view, we should condemn the death penalty, but we must not be na?ve about the current circumstances, and about the history related to the wave of hijackings.

The students also met this year with Joseph Mutti, a reporter for Radio Habana Cuba (English). Joseph is British and has lived for five years as a journalist in Cuba . He has worked in Cuba and elsewhere on issues about gay rights and HIV/AIDS, and I had asked him to speak about gay rights in Cuba . Students asked questions for more than 2 hours - about everything - perhaps because Joseph speaks English and perhaps because he is a foreigner. Joseph told the group afterward that he meets many such groups but that he had never received such thoughtful questions. Joseph said that as an openly gay man, he lives more freely here in Cuba than he ever did in the gay district of San Francisco, where he lived for 15 years. He said that in Cuba he is free not to have his head bashed in with a baseball bat, as is a common experience for gay men in the US . He also explained, in response to questions about working as a reporter, that the problem with the press in Cuba is that things are left out. Not everything is printed. But the problem with the press in the U.S. is that some of what is printed is just false. In Cuba , they tell the truth, but not all of it. It turns out that Joseph also opposes the death penalty and thinks the recent arrests were a mistake. But he also made the point that one has to ask why this has become an issue now, and why the story is being reported so inaccurately, leaving out any reference to the terrorism directed toward Cuba from the US . Joseph works on the English-language website ( which helps to fill in this story.

One student made the insightful and interesting comment to me – at the end of the course - that if she had not studied the history of the relations between the United States and the rest of Latin America, she would have thought that almost everything she sees in Cuba is evidence of failure. Her point was that unless one realizes that large powerful countries can and have exploited weaker ones, even destroying their cultures and institutions, thus undermining also the representation of their history, one can make a mistake about what the Development struggle has been about, in particular the struggle for independence. She said that if one doesn't know history one might be inclined to see only the economic problems as indicators. Her point, as I suggested to her, raises an interesting philosophical issue, which is the difficulty of formulating the questions required for understanding and measuring development. She remarked to me that she thought it could be possible to spend a lot of time in Cuba and Latin America without ever questioning one's own perspective about what matters. One can do this, she thought, if one is very secure about the rightness of the way development is measured, or seems to be measured in Canada . Of course, if one questions such criteria, the issues become more complex, but also much more interesting and alive. I told the student that this is a point we can bear in mind in preparing people for educational experiences in Cuba or elsewhere in Latin America .

It is interesting to note that three other universities have followed our specific course program, arriving after our group left. The University of Saskatchewan , the University of Montreal and Baylor University ( Waco , Texas ) also sent groups following more or less the same program that we have set up with the Faculty of History and Philosophy over the past few years. It was interesting to speak with the coordinators of these groups about some of the administrative challenges of running such courses and we have agreed to collaborate in the future.

There were no problems or incidents this year. The most dramatic event was the air turbulence when the plane ended up in a tropical lightning storm entering Havana , and had to be diverted to Cayo Largo, where we waited - the students enjoying the stifling heat - for the storm to move out of the area.

(Back to Top)