Newswise — ANN ARBOR—The highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Cuba in five decades will lead a delegation Wednesday to Havana to begin talks about normalizing relations. The trip is part of President Obama's effort to ease the embargo with the communist nation.

University of Michigan experts are ready to discuss the historic negotiations:

Silvia Pedraza, professor of sociology and American culture, can discuss the social and economic conditions in Cuba and the possible impact of the renewed ties with the U.S. on Cuban society. Her research focuses on the exodus from Cuba over the half century of the revolution. She is the author of "Political Disaffection in Cuba's Revolution and Exodus" and is presently working on a book comparing the Cuban and Venezuelan revolutions. Pedraza was born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the U.S. at age 12 after the revolution. She has visited Cuba many times, seeking to understand the impact of the revolution on people's lives there. Pedraza is bilingual English/Spanish.

Contact: 734-647-3659, [email protected]. Bio:

Ruth Behar, professor of anthropology and a MacArthur Fellow, can discuss how renewed ties could affect Cuba. She’s bilingual English/Spanish. Behar is the editor of the pioneering anthology, "Bridges to Cuba," and author of several books, including "An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba" and "Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in between Journeys." Behar is also a native of Cuba who immigrated to the U.S. as a 5-year-old after the revolution. She has visited Cuba many times and has written extensively about crossing cultural borders. Behar is bilingual English/Spanish.

In a Huff Post op-ed this week, Behar writes: "Cuba has already changed. For the sake of turning a new leaf in U.S.-Cuba relations, it would be wise for Americans to ask themselves whether they want to engage with a fantasy of Cuba or the real place in all its complexity and contradictions. The moment has come to cease thinking of Cuba as a primitive country frozen in time and to treat its people with the respect they have paid such a high price to attain."

Contact: 734-764-7274, [email protected]. Bio:

Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the Ford School of Public Policy, can discuss the diplomatic challenges the U.S. and Cuba will face in their negotiations. Levitsky was the U.S. ambassador to Brazil in 1994-98. His expertise includes politics, economics, diplomacy and drug policy.

"Having a U.S. ambassador in Cuba will give us more direct access to the Cuban leadership, but this will not necessarily translate into greater influence over issues like human rights, particularly regarding the release of political prisoners, freedom of speech and of the press, and other value-laden areas," Levitsky said. "Cuba is a poor country and the government is interested in expanding trade and tourism. This should increase U.S. influence and leverage over the long run. Democratic reforms will take longer and require patience and hard work on the part of U.S. diplomats and civil society organizations."

Contact: 734-615-4262, [email protected]. Bio: