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World affairs conference in Peoria to look at Cuban-U.S. relations

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor 
(217) 333-5491;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — As media reports and the court of public opinion have fixed on the fate of Elian Gonzalez, interest in Cuban-U.S. relations has never been greater in recent history.

In fact, the topic’s about to play in Peoria.

“Cuba and the United States:  A Time for Change?” is the theme of the 30th Annual Central Illinois World Affairs Conference, scheduled to take place March 3-4 at Bradley University’s Robert Michel Student Center, 1501 W. Bradley Place, Peoria.

“The main thing that sparked interest in this topic was the historic trip to Cuba by an Illinois delegation that traveled there last October, led by Gov. George Ryan, who felt it was time to look toward Cuba with an eye to change,” said Terry Iversen, director of the University of Illinois Office of Continuing Education in International Affairs, one of three UI units co-sponsoring the conference.  High on the delegation members’ agenda, Iversen said, was “establishing diplomatic relations and opening Cuban markets – not only to Illinois agricultural products but to industrial products as well.”

As has been the tradition with the annual conferences, which shift each year to different – and typically current – topics of interest, this year’s conference program will be broad and balanced in scope.

“In all of our programs, we have been careful to present as many different sides of the issues as possible,” Iversen said.

Among the issues Iversen expects will be addressed by participants:

• Cuba’s interest in a normalization of relations with the U.S.

• Implications that improved relations would have for Illinois.

• The case for keeping the economic embargo of Cuba in force.

• The impact of the Cuban crisis on the Cuban people.

• The future of U.S.-Cuban relations.

The conference’s keynote address will be presented by the Hon. Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, counselor and chief of the Cuban Interests Section, Washington, D.C.  Remirez is the former Cuban ambassador to Angola and former head of the international relations department of the central committee of the Cuban Communist Party.  Since his appointment to Washington, he has headed several official Cuban delegations to international events and bilateral visits, and has represented Cuban trade and diplomatic interests to the American public.  His conference talk will focus on “Cuba and the United States:  Time for a New Beginning.”

The closing address, titled “The United States and Cuba:  A Look to the Future,” will be presented by Louis A. Perez Jr.  The J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Perez has written extensively on Cuban-American history.  His most recent book, “On Becoming Cuban:  Identity, Nationality and Culture,” was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1999.

Other conference highlights include a panel discussion on the theme “Cuba and the United States:  Shackled to the Past?”  Presenters will include Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Cuba; David L. Chicoine, dean of the UI’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and a member of the Illinois delegation that traveled to Cuba last fall; and Gillian Gunn Clissold, director of the Georgetown University Caribbean Project, a not-for-profit research and policy analysis organization focused on the Caribbean region, with special programs on Cuba, Haiti and Puerto Rico.

In addition to Iversen’s unit, other UI co-sponsors of the conference are International Programs and Studies, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.  Additional co-sponsors are Bradley University, Eureka College, Heartland Community College, Illinois Central College, Illinois College, Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Lincoln College and Monmouth College.

More information about conference times, locations, fees and registration is available by calling (217) 333-1465.