Pearl of the Antilles


Although the United States doesn't permit students to travel to Cuba unless it's for an entire semester, on Tuesday night, sociology Professor Maynard Seider, Ph.D. (above) brought the Latin American country to MCLA as he presented a talk called "The Meaning of Cuba 50 Years After the Triumph of the Revolution."

He was awarded this year's Faculty Lecture Award for the lecture.

Seider made his first visit to Cuba in 1999. He returned in 2003 with a group of MCLA students, before the U.S. government in 2004 tightened travel restrictions to Cuba. He most recently traveled to Cuba in January, and he hopes it won't be long before he can take students there once again.

Cuba, Seider says, is very much like an incubator for sociologists to study human behavior.

"It is a country that is beautiful with a lot of very interesting history," he says. "In an era of globalism that we're in right now, where capitalism is so dominant, Cuba stands as a model saying, 'Wait a minute, maybe there is an alternative.'"

Some of the biggest changes that have occurred over the past 50 years, Seider says, include the access that the Cuban people have to basic needs like health care, education, food, and housing.

After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Cuba lost 85% of its trade. Its government decided to make some changes, which included seeking foreign investment to build up a stronger tourist trade. Today, Europeans and Canadians are drawn to Cuba's beaches and other attractions.

Americans, according to Seider, aren't aware of the Cuban medical system and the high rate of literacy in that country. "Cubans can go through medical school and graduate school without paying a penny," he says.

However, in exchange for their education, Cuban-educated people, such as doctors, teachers, and engineers, all must work for the government for a period of time, earning the same monthly salary. Those who work as hotel employees and tour guides can make considerably more money, partly because of their ability to earn tips.

During his recent visit to Cuba's Latin American School of Medicine, Seider learned that, due to the U.S. blockade, vaccines and medicines developed in Cuba to treat some forms of lung and prostate cancer are not allowed to enter this country. 

"I think that if Americans knew about this, their opposition to the blockade would quickly grow," he says. "The picture of Cuba I bring back home is one of an imperfect society, but one that has done a reasonably good job of taking care of the basic needs of its population."

Seider, who teaches a class on social change in Latin America, hopes that America's relationship with Cuba will transform under the leadership of U.S. President Barack Obama.

"He made it easier for Cuban-Americans to travel to visit family back in Cuba. He also took away the limit to the amount of money they could send from America to Cuba," he says. "But, he hasn't talked about changing the travel restrictions and he hasn't ended the embargo for trade."