- Next Stop Cuba?
Cuban tourism researcher Frank Delgado shot the cover photo for this issue of the Southeastern Geographer. Delgado and Eros Salinas, professor of tourism at the University of Havana, have been researching the former Hershey sugar mill complex in Cuba, and the potential for conservation and sustainable development of this community.
Milton Hershey and his eponymous company managed as much as 36,000 ha. (140 square miles) of sugar production land near Havana between 1919 and 1946. The center of this massive operation was the Hershey mill. The model company town of Hershey, Cuba included a nature garden, the Hotel Hershey, a baseball stadium and golf course, and Hershey’s own personal estate. A technologically innovative 56-mile electric train route connected the mill with the island’s major ports. Today, the Hershey mill is inactive, and much of Cuba’s sugar land has been taken out of production. Despite the loss of the mill, the community of Hershey struggles but remains alive, Hershey Gardens welcomes local visitors and tourists, and the Hershey train still carries passengers between Havana, Hershey, and the city of Matanzas.
Geography continues to be a vital discipline in Cuba, centered in the College of Geography at the University of Havana. Graduates of the College serve in a variety of Cuban government ministries and international NGOs, work in Cuba’s quasi-private enterprises, and—like Prof. Salinas—teach and research in other, applied fields such as tourism. The University of Southern Mississippi and other U.S. universities have enjoyed productive academic relationships with Cuba’s College of Geography. For Miller, Cuban academic and professional geographers have been among his closest personal friends over many years of research work on the island.
Hershey’s investments, operations, and developments in Cuba in the early 1900s were considered exemplars of business and social relationships between our two countries. What does the future hold for this relationship? In December 2014, Presidents Castro and Obama set in motion a number of encouraging steps toward re-opening dialogue and interaction that had been closed since 1962.
There are high hopes on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico that this progress can continue. At minimum, new policies [End Page 255] facilitate travel to Cuba for U.S. geographic researchers and educators, as well as travel to the U.S. by our Cuban counterparts. Geographers in both countries have an outstanding opportunity at this time of potential transition to contribute to cross-cultural understanding and research on development opportunities that are sustainable for Cuba’s economy, environment, and society.
Next stop, Cuba? If so, geographers get on board. [End Page 256]