Gov. Bob Holden Leads Delegation to Cuba

ST. LOUIS (DEC. 10, 2015) – Seizing the opportunity of the historic diplomatic changes with Cuba, former Missouri Governor Bob Holden, who teaches courses on politics and communication at Webster University, led a delegation of business, political, and educational leaders to the island last month.

The group was one of the first unofficial state delegations to be briefed at the newly opened U.S. Embassy in Havana. Members of the group also met with Cuban government officials during their eight days in the country.Holdens in Cuba

"One of the highlights of the trip was a meeting we held at the American Embassy,” Holden said of his group’s experience.  “We’ve got to decide how much business we want to do and how quickly we want to do it. As we all know, the politics of Florida plays a big role in shaping the U.S. policy toward Cuba.” 

Although executive orders have changed the diplomatic relationship with Cuba, an economic embargo that can only be lifted by the U.S. Congress limits tourism and business development with the communist country. Still, leaders on Holden’s trip were looking for development opportunities that could possibly help their states even with the embargo in place.

Associate Dean of the School of Communications Rick Rockwell accompanied Holden on his trip. The trip allowed him to contact officials at the University of Havana where Webster University has already built a strong relationship for study abroad programs.  “We hope to arrange a trip that will give students in the School of Communications the ability to use their skills to record and communicate what is going on in Cuba. We would love to build a program that connects students with Cuba’s rich cultural heritage,” said Rockwell, the producer of  the weekly online radio program “Latin Pulse.” Rockwell dedicated an entire episode of “Latin Pulse” to the travels of the Holden delegation in Cuba. 

Chris Gutierrez, the founder of SmartPort of Kansas City, was one of the regional leaders excited to be a member of the delegation. “When the embargo is lifted, I think there’s great opportunities in all sectors. Just in the agricultural sector, Kansas beef, Kansas wheat will have opportunities. And in Missouri as well, you have a tremendous agricultural commodities business sector that would have opportunities,” he said. SmartPort of Kansas City is a non-profit economic development organization representing 18 counties in Missouri and Kansas.

The Holden delegation visited a number of community projects, religious sites, educational institutions, and met leaders of various cultural and arts groups during its time touring Havana and the province of Matanzas, a region to the east of the capital city. Members of the delegation often left donations with groups such as the Muraleando project, a neighborhood group focused on using art to beautify their part of Havana, or the Evangelical Seminary of Theology in Matanzas, an ecumenical institution focused on theological education. It also provides organic crops and fresh water to its community.Associate Dean Rick Rockwell & Governor Bob Holden

Attorney Troy Nash of Kansas City, who was billed as the co-leader with Holden, organized the trip on behalf of People to People International, a non-profit group focused on international educational and cultural exchanges. Nash has led 13 exchange trips to Cuba, despite the embargo. “This was truly a special trip,” Nash said.  “We were able to get into the embassy for the first time. That was a special treat.” Nash emphasized throughout the trip that connecting leaders from the U.S. to community groups and cultural leaders in Cuba was truly a fulfilling mission that went beyond official diplomacy to break down barriers between the two countries.

“It’s been a real eye opening experience for me and for the rest of the people in the delegation,” Holden added.  “People are coming to Cuba in significant numbers and not that many Americans in the process. We’ve not only got to help our businesses build those relationships, but long-term I think the cultural relationships are so very important.” 

According to the Cuban government, about a quarter of a million U.S. citizens visited the island in the first six months of 2015. Of those, all but 90,000 were there to visit family members. So Cuba remains a rare destination for those traveling from the United States.

Holden, who is known for leading political and business delegations to China, said he hopes he can use his experiences on this trip to leverage more educational and cultural exchanges that will help Missouri, the Midwest and the U.S. connect with a country that is only starting to re-open to the United States after more than a 50 years.

Holden’s trip is just the latest example of Webster University’s outreach to Cuba. Even before the historic diplomatic changes, faculty members had successfully led various study abroad tours to Cuba, including a group led by Prof. Dan Hellinger in the spring of this year. The University also hosted noted Cuban theater director Flora Lauten and playwright Raquel Carrio as the 2015 Global Leaders in Residence. Students and professors combined to bring the production of “Big Love” from Webster’s Conservatory of Theatre Arts to Havana this fall. 

More about Webster University’s outreach to Cuba:
Flora Lauten and Raquel Carrio
Webster's 'Big Love' Production Enjoys Success in Cuba

More about Gov. Bob Holden:
Course Looks Inside Campaign Communications and Messaging

 About the School of Communications
The School of Communications at Webster University prepares students to excel as skilled professionals in the global field of communications. We provide theory and practice in media courses framed within a liberal arts-based curriculum, augmented by personalized mentorship, and professional development opportunities. Fifteen distinct majors are available at the undergraduate level and master’s degrees in six diverse fields of communications. We offer BA and MA programs on the Webster campuses in Geneva, Vienna, London, Leiden, Thailand, and Ghana, as well as in Saint Louis and online.

About Webster University
With its home campus in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, Webster University (www.webster.edu) comprises an action-oriented global network of faculty, staff, students and alumni who forge powerful bonds with each other and with their communities around the globe. Founded in 1915, Webster is a private non-profit university with more than 17,000 students studying at campus locations in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa and in a robust learning environment online. The university is committed to delivering high-quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence. 

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