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Drake Law students study agricultural law in Cuba

February 22, 2016

A group of Drake Law School students visited Cuba during the January Term to study agricultural law.

This was the fifth Drake Law School trip to Cuba since 2012, when Drake Law students became the first U.S. legal group ever to visit Cuba to study agricultural law.

The trip was organized and led by Neil Hamilton, Drake Law professor and director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, and included 14 students. The group was also accompanied by Jennifer Zwagerman, director of career development and associate director of the Agricultural Law Center, and Emiliano Lerda, LW’10, who served as an interpreter.

During the week-long visit, students learned about Cuban agricultural development and law while also experiencing the country’s history and culture.

The group met with representatives from the Unión Nacional de Juristas de Cuba (National Union of Cuban Jurists) and visited the University of Havana. They also visited the recently re-opened United States Embassy, where they received a state department briefing on the future of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

“We are very excited that Drake is helping improve relations between the two countries by giving our students opportunities to experience Cuba firsthand,” said Hamilton. “These visits are another example of the importance of agriculture and food production to every nation and the critical role that law plays.”

Drake students met with Cuban agricultural lawyers, visited the Cuban Institute for the Friendship of the Peoples, and toured Organopónico Vivero Alamar, a cooperative organic farm.

They also had the opportunity to visit with officials from the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation, one of the only non-governmental environmental groups in Cuba.

"It was important for students to hear firsthand the types of challenges that Cuban agriculture faces," Zwagerman said. "Many of the basic aspects of food and agricultural production that we take for granted are not available in the country, so it was impressive to see how these growers have adapted to the challenges."

Students also learned about Cuba through various activities including a walking tour of Old Havana, a flamenco show, and visits to the Hemingway house, a historical coffee plantation, and a sugar mill town.

“My favorite part of the trip was interacting with the Cuban people,” said Jenna Bishop, a second-year Drake Law student who participated in the trip. “They were excited to show us the parts of their country they were proud of as well as comment on the changes they would like to see in the future of their county."

Although relatively few U.S. citizens have visited Cuba since travel restrictions were imposed in 1963, Drake’s Agricultural Law Center has developed a collaborative relationship with the University of Havana.

In addition to the student trips, Hamilton and Lerda have done pioneering research with an agricultural law faculty member at the University of Havana Law School for the past few years.

In December 2015, officials at Drake University and the University of Havana signed a five-year, renewable Memorandum of Understanding to build upon this partnership and enhance educational opportunities between the two universities.

This agreement also comes at a fitting time as President Barack Obama announced plans to visit Havana in March, becoming the first sitting U.S. President to visit the country in nearly 90 years.

“Our recent visit is just one more indicator of the leading educational role Drake is able to play for our students and the nation,” Hamilton said.

“I'm excited to have seen Cuba at this moment in time,” added Bishop. “I hope the United States will continue to open up relations with Cuba, so that both U.S. and Cuban citizens will benefit from the proximity of our nations.”

See more photos on Drake Law's Flickr page.