SIU professor recounts Cuba visit

President Barack Obama may be the first American president to step foot in Cuba in nearly a century, but Southern Illinois University has had an exchange student agreement with the University of Havana since 2012.

Fifteen years before Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, SIU visiting professor John Jackson was walking the streets of the island nation.

"Our delegation went to many of the sites that the president is going to," said Jackson. "We went to a baseball game, for example, and did a lot of the same things he’s going to do."

However, Jackson wasn’t there to simply watch baseball and sight-see. His main goal was to get Cuban students to SIU.

"The world beats a path to American higher education, particularly because of our graduate level education, and Cubans are no different," said Jackson. "They want to come here to go to school."

Jackson says he found the people warm and welcoming, which is why he says it’s time to lift the embargo.

"It makes no sense for us to embargo Cuba just because they’re there," said Jackson. "If we’re going to deal with Vietnam and China, we might as well deal with Cuba."

There aren’t any Cuban students enrolled at SIU this semester.

Jackson says currency exchange rates make it expensive for Cuban students to attend universities in America.

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