Sparks to kick off Cuba Week

Ethan Summers

Cuba Week launches Sunday with a speech by Ron Sparks, State Commissioner of Agriculture and Democratic candidate for governor of Alabama.

Sparks will speak at the Bryant Conference Center’s Sellers Auditorium Sunday at 5 p.m., according to a UA News press release. The speech is free and open to anyone.

Sparks was chosen to speak because he has “led efforts to open up agricultural trade between Alabama and Cuba,” the release states.

“Poultry, soybeans and wood products, such as telephone poles, are among the products Alabama sells to Cuba,” the release states. “In recent years, this trade with Cuba has created an economic impact for the state that has ranged from $300 million to $400 million.”

The Alabama-Cuba Initiative, or Cuba Week, is entering its eighth year at the University. Cuba Week 2010 runs Oct. 10-14. The event’s site, cubaweek.ua.edu, has a list of 29 topics that will be covered throughout the week. The topics range from the UA Study Abroad program and discussions of art in Cuba to biodiversity in the island nation and its history of baseball.

The relationship between the University of Alabama and Cuba has developed mostly in recent years.

“In 2003, UA hosted the Alabama-Cuba Conference and invited 10 Cuban photographers, economists, writers, scientists, poets and other professionals to join with UA Latin American experts for three days of workshops and presentations,” the release stated.

The release also detailed the Tide baseball team’s trip to Cuba in 2008, when the University hosted Cuban actors performing a Spanish-language production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as well as how 20 UA students participated in the semester abroad program in Havana in 2009 and 2010.

U.S.-Cuban relations are historically tense. Clashes occurred in the mid-19th century resulting in an American ban on exports to Cuba in 1960. Cuba began trade relations with the USSR and tensions rose over Communism during the Cold War. The Cuban Missile Crisis resulted and relations worsened.

Since then, American-Cuban affairs have improved, culminating in a trade act passed in 2000 that allowed exports of food and medicine. President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba and said he was open to talks with the nation.

Several Cuban students are authorized to travel to the University for Cuba Week, said Robert Olin, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We have just learned that 26 Cuban scholars have received clearance to travel to Tuscaloosa for Cuba Week,” he said. “This is highly unusual, and their presence will make the conference rich with new perspectives and ideas.

“This is a marvelous opportunity for students to learn firsthand about our island neighbors,” he said.

Andrew Huebner, an assistant professor in the history department and a speaker for Cuba Week, said it’s great to be able to host Cubans in Tuscaloosa.

“There’s importance in having Cubans at UA, given the difficulty of travel between the two countries,” he said.

Huebner said he hoped Cuba Week would draw students to learn more about the nation and look into studying there.

“We have a study abroad program there now, and hopefully this can drum up interest in students going on that in the future if they go to these events,” he said.

More information about Cuba Week, registration for the speakers and activities offered can be found at cubaweek.ua.edu.