Before President Barack Obama announced in December his plan to normalize relations with Cuba, the University of New Mexico Latin American & Iberian Institute had been quietly operating trips to the island nation through its People to People and academic licenses.

One of the key individuals in Cuba to help make the trips successful is Henry Heredia, director of International Relations and Exchange at the Juan Marinello Cuban Institute for Cultural Research. He is visiting UNM and presenting, “US-Cuba Relations: Changing Perceptions,” on Tuesday, March 17 from 4 – 6 p.m. at the LAII, 801 Yale Blvd. NE on the UNM main campus. The event is free and open to the public.

Heredia has a degree in education from the Pedagogical University in Havana and also studied at the Higher Institute of International Relations Raul Roa. He has more than 10 years’ experience with the environmental and community group Project Espiral, where is a founding member. Since 2011, he manages academic exchanges for Juan Marinello and previously served as the international relations coordinator for the Cuban Writers and Artists Association.

Heredia is also coming to work with the LAII on long range programmatic planning. “Faculty are poised to conduct research with Henry at Juan Marinello,” Tiano said. Heredia is also going to visit a couple of College of Education classes, she said.

LAII Director Susan Tiano said that they operated their first group under an academic license in 2012. “We traveled in 2013 and 2014 through a People to People license and applied for renewal, which was granted through 2016,” she said.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the Cuban government’s requirement that groups must have a full schedule and all who go must participate. “They cannot take part in tourist activities and must be accompanied by an institutional representative,” said Vickie Nelson, LAII associate director.

Nelson added that individuals and other universities contacted them about licensing now that it is easier to gain access to Cuba for research and scholarship. “We had a flood of phone calls in late January after the December announcement,” she said, adding that the arts and culture trip planned in March is already full with a waiting list from community members.

Another trip, “Architectural & Environmental Conservation,” is planned for June 19-28. Unlike other groups that only visited Havana, this group will travel to Cienfuegos and Trinidad, as well. “All three cities are designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites,” Tiano said. Participants will meet with grassroots organizations working on conservation initiatives and discuss agricultural strategies with tobacco farmers, while learning about the history and life in Cuba.