Newswise — Anke Birkenmaier, director of the Center for Caribbean and Latin American Studies in the Indiana University School of Global and International Studies, noted President Obama's visit's tremendous historical importance to relations between Cuba and the United States.

"It signals the will on the part of the current U.S. government to leave behind years of Cold War confrontation and begin a new period of friendly relations, based first of all on renewed economic contacts," Birkenmaier said. "I am not sure how much of a concrete effect this visit will have on the still-existing U.S. trade embargo on the one hand, and on the other, on Cuba’s poor record in human rights or the increase Cubans access to the Internet. But what counts a lot is that the channels of communication between the two countries are multiplying.

"By increasing contact with small independent business owners as well as state enterprises, farmers, health professionals, religious groups, environmental agencies, musicians, performers, athletes and writers, the two cultures will grow closer again, and hopefully things might change for the better on both sides," she added. "I am less worried about Cuba falling back into economic dependency on the United States.

"Too much has happened since the Cuban Revolution of 1959. I’m rather worried about rising social and racial inequality in the Cuba of now, which has to do with the uneven access of Cubans on the island to foreign currencies and therefore high-quality food and other consumer goods, either thanks to remittances from relatives abroad, or because they work in tourism-related enterprises. A huge part of Cuba’s population is still excluded from those benefits, and I hope that President Obama’s visit will push for an opening allowing a larger part of the population to work independently and do direct business with outside handlers."

Reporters can reach Birkenmaier at 812-855-0639 or [email protected].