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After Castro's death, questions remain about business in Cuba, scholar says

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

LAWRENCE — After the death of Fidel Castro, it's still unclear if U.S. political and economic relations with Cuba will continue to improve, said a University of Kansas lecturer who has initiated a study-abroad program to the Caribbean island.

Bob Augelli, director of the KU School of Business Multicultural Business Scholars Program, is available to discuss the effects of Castro's death and the climate for American businesses regarding Cuba. Augelli led students on the school's first study-abroad trip to Cuba in the spring of 2016. The 2017 trip is already moving forward. He also served as project director of Rosa Blanca, a cultural exchange program with Cuba that involved Lawrence artist Stan Herd creating an image of a white rose as crop art in honor of the 19th century Cuban poet José Martí.

The United States has imposed an embargo against Cuba since 1958 and for decades has maintained a bitter relationship with Castro's regime over his human rights record and support of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and other reasons. His brother, Raul Castro, took over the leadership in Cuba years ago as Fidel Castro's health deteriorated.

Augelli said the Obama administration has sought to soften economic and political relations with Cuba in recent years. This has led to developments such as U.S. airlines initiating their first commercial flights to Cuba in more than 50 years.

However, with Donald Trump's surprising victory in the U.S. presidential election and his comments in wake of Fidel Castro's death, it remains to be seen if that U.S.-Cuba relationship will continue to improve, Augelli said. Trump has promised to reverse the Obama administration's inroads with Cuba unless Raul Castro met demands for more political and religious freedoms.

"Had it not been for the latest U.S. election results, I think Castro's death would have been relatively symbolic," Augelli said. "His brother, Raul Castro, has been more pragmatic and willing to not only be open to dialogue between the United States and Cuba but also willing to start considering potential changes to their economic system. He hasn't seemed to veer 180 degrees away from communism, but he seems to be willing to dramatically expand the private sector within the Cuban economy."

On his trip in 2016, Augelli said he had observed Cuban academics talking more openly about analyzing the future of the Cuban economy, including more widespread private-sector development, ideas that no one in the communist country would have dared address for decades.

Because so many American corporations have begun to invest money in Cuba and perhaps planned to help address the island nation's battered infrastructure, it will be interesting to see if Trump's comments after Castro's death were more posturing or signaled a policy change, he said.

"There is going to be an awful lot of pushback from business interests in the U.S. against completely reversing our current course," Augelli said.

To arrange an interview with Augelli, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.

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