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Drake students' trip to Cuba is a first

February 27, 2012
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Drake law students listen to their guide on a farm in Cuba.

Cuba - a nation few Americans have set foot in since 1960 - played host to a group of 18 students from Drake University Law School last month. The group, accompanied by Professor Neil Hamilton, director of Drake's Agricultural Law Center, was the first U.S. legal group to visit Cuba to study agricultural law.

The students were hosted by the Union National de Juristas de Cuba (the Cuban equivalent to American Bar Association) and met with officials from the Sociedad Cubana de Derecho Agrario (the Agricultural Law Society of Cuba). The delegation learned about many different aspects of Cuban law, from the Cuban Constitution and legal education in Cuba, to current issues in agricultural law.

The delegation focused particularly on the agricultural reforms taking place in Cuba. Since 2008, a movement to make idle state-owned farmland available to individual farmers under 10-year leases has changed the way food is grown in the country. Since the campaign began, more than 178,000 individuals have signed agreements involving more than 3 million acres. While Cuba has increased its food production, the country still imports about 75 percent of its food.

Drake students visited several of these farms and urban gardens to see how they are organized and how urban agriculture is used.

"There is nothing that can compare to a hands-on, in-person educational experience like the one we received in Cuba," says law student Kale Van Bruggen, who went on the trip. "Speaking with the Cuban people about their own experiences provided an entirely deeper level of understanding and appreciation."

To conclude the visit, the students attended a joint session on agricultural law with the Cuban Agricultural Law Society and Hamilton gave a lecture on the parallels of agricultural law between the United States and Cuba, the first talk on the topic by a U.S. professor.

Beyond the agricultural law lessons students took with them, the trip gave the group a chance to learn about a country few Americans understand clearly. Hamilton says the experience gave the delegation a new perspective on the relationship between Cuba and the United States. He hopes to make the trip a recurring event.

"Our trip was an invaluable opportunity for Drake students to visit a country with a unique political and legal system," says Hamilton. "Someday soon the U.S. will have more normal relations with our neighbor to the south, and these Drake Law students will be prepared to help build that new future."