TIP SHEET: University of Virginia Experts on Fidel Castro

February 19, 2008
With the announcement of Cuban President Fidel Castro's resignation, the following University of Virginia faculty members can offer expertise regarding several areas of his life and the impact of his regime.


Herbert “Tico” Braun specializes in the history of Latin America.
“It is unlikely that the death of Fidel Castro will have a dramatic impact on the rest of Latin America,” Braun said. “His influence in the region has waned. Friendly regimes do not depend on him for their power. Few governments in the region actively oppose him and would gain little legitimacy with his death. Fidel Castro’s death will almost certainly have repercussions in the domestic politics of the United States. However, the long and quiet transition that is now taking place toward Cuba not governed by Fidel will make it more difficult for actors in the United States to take advantage of his passing.”

Braun, an associate professor of history and director of Undergraduate Studies in Department of History has a bachelor’s of arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
He has been a research fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Horace W. Goldsmith Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Humanities. He has received the Distinguished Service Award, La Sociedad Latina, the Global Studies for Teachers Award, and the Mónica Vaca Award for Outstanding Faculty Member, La Sociedad Hispánica.

Braun may be reached at (434) 924-6406 and/or hb3r@virginia.edu.


Luis Fernando Medina, an associate professor in the Department of Politics, specializes in formal approaches to comparative politics.

“The influence of Fidel Castro in Latin American politics is probably second to none but, at the same time, it has changed its manifestations over the past five decades,” Medina said. “Even though his policies in Cuba have seldom commanded ample support in Latin America, he has been a symbol and a mentor for many of the continent's political actors that want to wrest the region away from what they perceive as the collusion between local economic elites and American power. He has done so in several guises, from inspiring armed insurgencies in the 1960s in South America, to actively funding them in the 1980s, especially in Central America, to becoming an elder statesman and ‘voice of reason’ for some Colombian movements in the early 21st Century.

Although much is made of his influence over new left-wing movements, especially Chavez's in Venezuela, this may well be an attempt to ‘pass the baton’ from an elderly leader of an embattled economy in a Caribbean island to a younger leader of a much wealthier economy in mainland Latin America.”

Medina, who has a Ph.D from Stanford University, has just finished a book "A Theory of Collective Action and Social Change" that develops a method to study games with multiple equilibria (of which collective action problems are a special case) and applies it to the study of politico-economic problems, especially clientelism and wage-bargaining.

A native of Colombia, where he received his bachelor’s of arts degrees in economics and philosophy, he is the co-director of the Center for Research in Political Economy at the Universidad Externado de Colombia.

Currently he is engaged in a project that extends the method of stability sets to the study of electoral games. He teaches courses on game theory, on Latin America and on the connections between rational-choice theory and other traditions (especially social theory). He is also currently responsible for the Core Seminar in Comparative Politics.

Medina may be reached at (434) 924-3664 and/ or lfm9b@virginia.edu.


Gustavo Pellón is an associate professor of Spanish and comparative literature, who was born in Camagüey, Cuba. His major field of teaching and research is the contemporary novel in Latin America. He has published a book on the Cuban poet and novelist Lezama entitled: José Lezama Lima’s Joyful Vision, (La visión jubilosa de José Lezama Lima), and many articles on leading Latin American writers.

“Cuban literature has suffered during the Castro regime because of state control of all the media,” Pellón said. “While Cuba, which has a brilliant literary tradition going back to the 19th century, has continued to be blessed with great poets, novelists and playwrights, in most cases they have wound up in exile or in ‘inner exile’ when not in prison.”

Pellón received his bachelor’s of arts degree in history and comparative literature from Brown University and his master’s of arts and Ph.D. in comparative literature from the State University of New York at Binghamton.  He has been a visiting Professor at Bowdoin College and Johns Hopkins University.

Pellón’s recent works include:  “Góngora, Lorca, Lezama y la Imagen Poética,” "To Be Continued: Mempo Giardinelli's Characters in Search of an Ending,"  in a special South Atlantic Review issue on Latin American Fiction of the 90s, and  Cuba: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Luis Martínez-Fernández, Danilo H. Figueredo, and Louis A. Perez, Jr.,eds.

Pellon can be reached at  (434) 825-7257 and /or gp6a@virginia.edu


Philip D. Zelikow, the White Burkett Miller Professor of History, is a well-known authority on the Cuban Missile Crisis. He is the co-editor of “The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House during the Cuban Missile Crisis” and co-editor of the accompanying reference volumes. He is also co-author of “Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis.” He was also a technical adviser on the film “Thirteen Days,” which dealt with the White House inner circle during that time.

Until recently Zelikow was Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, where he served as a senior policy advisor on a wide range of issues to the Secretary of State. Before his appointment as Counselor, Zelikow served as the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Formerly a trial and appellate attorney in Houston, Zelikow served as a career foreign service officer. He taught at Harvard University and at the University of Virginia, where he was director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs. A former member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Zelikow also directed the privately sponsored Carter-Ford Commission on Federal Election Reform, which led to the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Zelikow received his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Redlands, his law degree from the University of Houston, and his master’s and doctorate in international law and diplomacy from Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

Zelikow may be reached at (434) 806-8850. 


Dr. David  A.  Peura, a professor at the University of Virginia Medical Center, specializes in gastroenterology.

“Diverticulitis is a quite common condition especially in the elderly in which diverticula (out-pouching of the colon lining) become inflamed or infected and perforate leading to an abscess in the abdomen or peritonitis,” Peura said. “When diverticulitis is severe and not responding to antibiotics, surgery becomes necessary, often with creation of a colostomy to bypass the infected area and allow it to heal.”

"In any individual especially one who is elderly who undergoes emergency surgery to an area of the body where there is an active infection, sutures are apt to break down and not heal. It is quite possible that the ‘infection in the stomach’ is an abscess that either resulted from suture breakdown or caused poor healing of sutures.” 

After Peura received his medical degree from the University of Vermont, he did his residency in internal medicine at the Letterman Army Medical Center and a fellowship in gastroenterology at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  His clinical practice has been in endoscopy and general gastrointestinal diseases and his research interests include helicobacter pylori, nonsteroidal induced gastrointestinal injury and ulcer disease Hepatology.

Peura may be contacted at (434) 924-0316 and/or dap8v@virginia.edu.

In addition the following two experts are from the MILLER CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS:

David Coleman is Assistant Professor and chair of the Presidential Recordings Program. Coleman specializes in foreign relations since 1945, nuclear history, and 20th century U.S. political history. His work for the Miller Center's Presidential Recordings Program focuses on the tapes of presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. He is coordinator of the Kennedy project within the Program. He is also director of WhiteHouseTapes.org, a research site dedicated to the presidential recordings. He writes and teaches on U.S.-European relations during the Cold War, nuclear deterrence, and the politics of the 1960s, among other topics. His current work includes work on several manuscripts: an international history of the Berlin crisis; a study of American policy toward Vietnam from 1962 to 1964 (with Fredrik Logevall and Marc Selverstone) that uses newly declassified White House recordings; and a history of nuclear deterrence (with Joseph M. Siracusa).

Coleman's specialties: 20th-Century U.S. Political History; Political History; American Government and Politics; Defense Strategy / Nuclear Strategy; International Relations; Nuclear Politics; Policy History; Presidential Recordings; U.S. Foreign Policy; U.S. History, Political; U.S. History, Science and Technology; White House Tapes
Coleman may be contacted at (434) 924-9575 and/or dgcoleman@virginia.edu

Marc Selverstone is an Assistant Professor with the Presidential Recordings Program. After receiving his Ph.D. in U.S. Foreign Relations at Ohio University, he joined the Miller Center in November 2000. Before starting work on his doctorate, Marc received his Masters Degree in International Affairs from Columbia University in 1992.
Selverstone may be contacted at (434) 243-8983 or selverstone@virginia.edu