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Rice Professor Talks About Baseball Team Students, Himself, Living Historic Moment in Cuba

Rice’s associate professor Luis Duno-Gottberg has been in Cuba with the university’s baseball team since last week The original purpose was to play exhibition games against teams from the Cuban Baseball Federation as well as to take part in a cultural program. After Castro’s death, the games were cancelled but the academic program continues.


“It”s a moving, perplexing experience to be here when something of this magnitude happens. I was telling my students that we are here at the moment when the 20th Century has officially come to an end. “

That’s how Rice University Associate Professor of Caribbean and Film Studies and Department Chair Luis Duno-Gottberg explains on the phone the unique experience that he and the Rice University baseball team are having in Cuba, as the island says goodbye to its political leader of over half a century, Fidel Castro.

Castro, who died on Friday 25th, ruled Cuba since the 1960s in a Soviet-communist style and defied the United States during his 50 years tenure not only from the island but by spreading his ideological influence in other parts of Latin America and even Africa.

Rice’s Duno-Gottberg has been in Cuba with his baseball team students since last week, and planning to stay there until December 4th, originally to play exhibition games against teams from the Cuban Baseball Federation as well as to take part in a cultural program. The games have been cancelled after Castro’s death “out of respect”, says Duno-Gottberg, but the academic program goes on. During the trip, players and other Rice students are to complete a fall-semester credit-bearing class on trends in contemporary Cuba and to experience Cuban culture.

“Almost a year ago a group of people from Rice and myself started thinking about… playing baseball in Cuba”, says Duno-Gottberg. “Because of the importance of the sport and the caliber of the players.”

Duno-Gottberg, an expert in Cuba and author of a 2003 book called "Solventar las diferencias: La ideología del mestizaje en Cuba", or “How to work out differences: The ideology of mixed race groups in Cuba”, says that he’s been studying the Caribbean country for about 20 years. So he was one of the parties involved at Rice when they came together with authorities in Cuba to design a project for Houston students to go there and play some games with Cuban regional teams while also delivering an academic program. It includes, Gutto-Gottberg explains, History, Arts, Poetry, Literature of Cuba and a trip to the island.

“They got to play one game, which they won”, says Duno-Gottberg of the Rice team in Cuba. “With the team of Artemisa”.


Brutalist Dawn in Habana. #architecture #brutalist #russia #cuba #havana #urbanphotography

A photo posted by Luis Duno-Gottberg (@dunogottberg) on

And then, the news of Fidel Castro’s death broke on Friday 25th. The games were suspended but academic parts of the program go on.

“The students, and the staff and everybody, have responded to it with a profound awareness, I think, of what it means for the Cuban people, inside or outside of the island. Everybody is aware of that”, Duno-Gottberg underlines.

The historic experience of being in Cuba at the time of the death of the “maximum leader of the Revolution” has been moving for his Rice students, says Duno-Gottberg. “They are not the same students that arrived a week ago.”

What they have encountered since Castro’s death, Duno-Gottberg says, is that no matter how polarizing a figure Fidel Castro was, everybody showed respect for him when he died.

“Inside Cuba there are many Cubans”, says Duno-Gottberg. “But in general, even among those who may not sympathize with the historical figure of Fidel Castro there is a sense of respect. Even among those who are opposed… they have expressed respect.” This general sentiment that the Rice professor says to find among Cubans in the island is a big contrast to what the exiled community in Miami expressed when the news of Castro’s death came up last Friday.

“Other people, I have found people who are mourning the loss of Fidel “, says the professor mentioning Castro by his first name, which is how Cubans, and Latin Americans in general, refer to the Cuban former president by.

“I’ve seen people from different generations and they are sad. Different generations have different ways to express sadness”, Duno-Gottberg explains. “People who are older, who were young at the beginning of the Revolution I’ve seen them in tears. Younger people… are not in tears but are very much aware that he is an important figure for their nation. However, everybody in Cuba had been preparing for this for years, the professor reminds, so it’s not an unexpected shock in anyway.


However, Cubans don’t seem to think that changes will happen overnight after Castro’s death. There are things more impactful for the island, says Duno-Gottberg : ” I may be wrong but I think that changes are a part of an ongoing process… that will be determined not necessarily by Fidel’s passing but by many other elements that include from the availability of oil to the results of the elections in the United States” says Duno-Gottberg.

“This country, again, has been preparing for the transition. In a year and a half or so, Raúl Castro would step down, they keep on flexibilizing the economy… so it’s an ongoing process… that I don’t think things are going to change drastically”, adds the Rice professor who also says quickly that no one should try to predict the future.