Universities Should Not Abandon Cuba




McKinney, Larry


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Larry McKinney, Executive Director Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies Texas A&M University Corpus-Christi I traveled to Cuba on November 14, 2017 only a few days after the US State Department released new restriction for travel to Cuba. My purpose was to sign a cooperative research agreement with the University of Havana. My last trip there was in July to host a joint workshop with the Center for Marine Research (CIM). I could tell no difference, either coming or going between the two travels. I did not expect any. What was different was university response in the USA. My university system's risk assessment office put a hold on my travel and required my president to review and sign-off a second time, specifically because it was Cuba. I received all sorts of dire warnings and safety instruction. It was an abundance of caution, appreciated, but annoying and nothing I had to deal with in the previous three Cuba trips of 2017. Any number of colleagues from other universities questioned the safety of going there, understandable because of recent events. I was more disturbed when I heard from a Cuban colleague that a major New England university that had supported student exchanges in Cuba for more than twenty years had just canceled the program. I hope this is not a general trend with US universities. The general retreat from improving relations with Cuba is disappointing but fortunately, it has not targeted cooperative science efforts and education exchange. My hope is that this was deliberate, a recognition of the value in maintaining these relationships. As a marine scientist from an institute that has worked extensively in Cuba over the last ten years, I have seen the value of positive engagement as opposed to isolation and embargo. Science diplomacy, based on the pursuit of common conservation goals, has been a key element in advancing shared interests through difficult times. These efforts have been instrumental in sustaining contact when other possibilities have closed. My hope is that science will continue to fill that role in the face of a retreating policy of engagement. Despite decades of lingering restrictions, science and research have been an effective means of communicating with our neighbor, less than 100 miles to the south. On issues spanning disaster preparedness and response, fisheries health, the spread of diseases and more, there has been and will continue to be a real need for cooperation. The relatively recent agreement between the AAAS and the Cuban Academy of Sciences signed in April of 2014 to advance scientific cooperation is one of several that continue to build positive relationships and advance science diplomacy. Recently the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program joined with the Harte Research Institute to help develop the next generation of Gulf scholars. The program brings together promising graduate students from around the Gulf of Mexico, including Cuba, to promote international cooperation and to foster a network of future Gulf research leaders. These efforts can only be successful if students and researchers are allowed, and most importantly, encouraged to participate. I do understand that the world is a far more dangerous place than it may have once been. No university wants to put either their staff or students at risk. I do not think Cuba represents any greater risk now, than before the new travel requirements. What we do risk is the significant progress that we have made over many years of productive science diplomacy between our two countries. Derailing that progress would be a tragedy.






McKinney, L.D. 2017. Universities Should Not Abandon Cuba. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/358/6367/1115/tab-e-letters