September 03, 2004

SIU gets federal approval to continue work in Cuba

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Thanks to the swift intervention of three Illinois congressmen, Southern Illinois University may continue to conduct research in Cuba.

A University request for renewal of its license, which expired June 30 and permitted educational activities on the sanctioned-island nation, was greatly aided by the support of the three congressmen, said SIU's John Haller, vice president for academic affairs. Haller said U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, led the push for the renewal.

"We want to show our appreciation to Congressman Costello and his colleagues, U.S. Reps. John Shimkus and Ray LaHood," said Haller, who routinely applies for the travel permit on behalf of the entire SIU system. Permits are good for only a year at a time.

"Now, our license has been renewed through Aug. 31, 2005," Haller said. "This authorizes the University's scholars, researchers, faculty, staff and students to engage in travel to Cuba provided it relates to approved, specified educational activities."

Costello says he was more than happy to help out.

"These types of research opportunities and educational exchanges are very important and aid the mission of the university, which is a big part of the 'Southern at 150' vision," Costello said, referring to the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

On Aug. 25, Haller received a letter confirming the license's renewal from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the division of the U.S. Treasury that oversees economic and trade sanctions with those foreign countries deemed to be national threats.

The news couldn't have come soon enough for SIUC doctoral student Kenneth A. Routon, who spent the better part of the past year in Havana conducting anthropology research on Afro-Cuban religious healing practices.

A Fulbright scholar, Routon had hoped to stay in country until early this fall. But he decided to head back to the Carbondale campus when it became apparent SIU's license might be in jeopardy.

"When you're on a hot lead in your research and your rapport is at its best, it's a disappointment to have to bail out early like that," Jonathan D. Hill, chairperson of the SIUC anthropology department, said.

"We thought it best to err on the side of caution, and thought it wise for Routon to return to the U.S.," Hill said. "Now, things have sort of turned and that will be good for Kenneth. He'll probably want to go back to Cuba to continue his research."

Such activities expand earlier SIU initiatives in Cuba.

In 2001, late, former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon and SIU President James E. Walker led a 30-member delegation to Cuba for a five-day education and public policy mission.

During their stay, Castro invited Simon, founder of the SIUC Public Policy Institute, to a luncheon that blossomed into a six-hour meeting in which the leaders discussed a number of vital issues, including health care, agriculture, medical schools and educational systems.