Although Cuba is open to the rest of the world, the island nation remains an elusive destination for American travelers.
Dr. Eric B. Dent, UNC Pembroke's Dean of the School of Business, recently returned from Havana, where he spoke at an academic conference. It was his second trip to Cuba.
"Academics and journalists are the two primary groups from America who can get licenses to visit Cuba," Dr. Dent said. "Tremendous restrictions remain to travel and to conduct commerce."
Dr. Dent lectured on "The Challenges of Observation, Inquiry and Measurement in Complexity Theory" at the Second Biennial Seminar on the Philosophical, Epistemological and Methodological Implications of Complexity Theory conference. He is a leading American expert in the field, which has its roots in natural science.
"Complexity theory is an approach to research, study and perspective that is holistic, interdependent and non-hierarchical," Dr. Dent said. "Discussing the philosophical implications of complexity theory is more popular outside the U.S., where philosophical approaches to problems are important."
"For Cubans living in a communist society, complexity theory allows them to talk about open systems in a politically acceptable way," he said.
Apparently, Dr. Dent's approach to business theory is welcome in Cuba. Fidel Castro Jr., son of the president and the nation's number two political figure, was in the audience for his lecture.
"It is gratifying that my talk might, in some very small way, have some influence on the course of events down there," Dr. Dent said. "Even the most hard-line Cubans realize that things are changing, and Castro, who is 77, cannot live forever."
"They do not want to happen in Cuba what happened in Russia when communism collapsed," Dr. Dent said. "They do not want to lose the good things they have - a strong healthcare system and little corruption."
For Dr. Dent, Cuba is an island paradise that evokes strong feelings.
"In Cuba, you have a sensation of being lost in time - like it's still 1960," he said. "There are beautiful oceanfront buildings that are vacant and gutted."
Dr. Dent said things have changed since his visit two years ago. There is more tourism and more money, especially U.S. dollars. However, travel to Cuba remains difficult.
"It's a tremendous hassle," Dr. Dent said. "Getting in and out of there, I was checked thoroughly three or four times."
While he was there, Cuba celebrated the 45th anniversary of the revolution that rocked the world and launched Fidel Castro into power, where he remains in open defiance of the U.S. today.
The second biennial conference on complexity theory was held January 7-10. Dr. Dent's conference paper will be published in the book, "Managing the Complex: Philosophy, Theory and Practice," edited by Kurt Richardson.