Cuba Tour 2003

Beginning March 14, 2003, Dr. Jane Sabes, professor of Political Science at Andrews University, and 22 political science students took their studies to Cuba for ten days, learning about everything from the island's history, to its culture, politics, educational system and geography. To get a realistic sense of Cuban life, the students lived with the locals, ate their daily fare of rice and beans and used non-flush toilets and cold water showers.

They visited the Revolutionary Museum; the Memorial to Cuba's legendary leader, Jose Marti; and other points of interest in Old Havana, such as the local markets and the Malecon, Cuba's famed boardwalk along the ocean's edge. The cannon firing at Moro Fortress, a re-enactment of the 1500s nightly gate closing to protect the City of Havana, also provided a view of the city lights at dusk from the fortress heights. Following Sabbath attendance at the local SDA service, the group visited Havana's spectacular Botanic Gardens boasting flora and fauna from around the world.

The following days they traveled to Playa Giron, the site of the Bay of Pigs invasion, where they learned the Cuban version of this 1960s foray between the United States and Cuba.

Next, they traveled to the small communities of Moron, Bolivia and Sola - a six-hour bus trip into Cuba's interior, where they visited one of the island's remaining sugar cane plantations. When asked how sugar ranks among Cuba's products of trade, the sugar mill director proudly responded, "Our nation's #1 commodity we aim to have is a highly literate population, followed then by sugar." In reality, however, the mono-economy is now diversifying to include citrus and other such products, but remains agricultural and non-technological in nature.

One could never conceive of a trip to Cuba without purchasing tickets to a national baseball game. Although the students couldn't understand a word spoken by the female announcer, they could clearly see who the favored team was and knew when to cheer.

The group also spoke with an educator regarding Cuba's highly acclaimed school system. This principal told us that the strength of the system lay in Castro's goal that everyone be able to read, write and do math; second, a national process of teacher certification.

One day had been set aside for sun and fun on the beach Caya Coca. Ironically, the day at the beach provided more information about government control than any other. Previous conversations had indicated a cost of $14.00 for three hours with a glass bottom boat trip out to the coral reefs and snorkeling. Upon arrival, Dr. Sabes learned there was a $50 day use fee. She spoke with the manager. He motioned her aside, telling her that although his business was an international one, he had government spies among his staff to report any irregularities. Were he to waive our day-use fee, he would be out of a job and the hotel operations might be nationalized. The group decided to go to Pilar public beach, and had a lovely day.

At present, the Seventh-day Adventist church has 22,000 members in 238 churches - most without structures. In Bolivia, Cuba, students saw a house-church nearing completion, funded by donations. House-churches provide living quarters for a pastor along with an extra large living room for church services. These accommodations can be constructed for a mere $4,500! The students helped out with gifts of Bibles and clothing.

The group met with an SDA and Baptist pastor and asked what was the greatest challenge faced by the church today. Rather than cite government repression of evangelism and religious literature, or the encouragement of spiritualism (which is traditionally non-political), the Baptist pastor responded, "The greatest challenge to the Christian church in Cuba today is to accurately and consistently reflect Christ."

Back home, the students agreed it had been a trip of a lifetime. They were more fortunate than they knew, for Dr. Sabes learned shortly afterwards that the Cuban government had banned educational tours, making this tour one of the last to be allowed in the country.

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