More than 130,000 American citizens have traveled to Cuba in the last six months under federal exemption rules designed to increase "purposeful travel" and diplomatic relations between the Caribbean nation and the United States.
Science and education officials from both countries are hoping the increased engagement will yield positive intellectual exchange, and they met last month in Washington to dialog about agricultural and educational export as the backdrop for building friendly relations.
Representatives from U.S. and Cuban government, higher education and research agencies met at the National Press Club to discuss new and existing agreements with institutions like the University of Havana.
U.S. Department of State Science and Technology Adviser Vaughan Turekian underscored the importance of science diplomacy with Cuba and talked about continual exchange visits between public health and environmental protection officials, which have created intra-agency memoranda of understanding among several institutions, including colleges and universities.
“Our scientific engagements with Cuba have blossomed, and we are close to concluding arrangements in a number of other scientific areas, including marine pollution response, agriculture, conservation, seismology and meteorology,” he said.
The University of Illinois at Chicago is one of the featured university partners in a growing coalition developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Cuban Academy of Sciences to bring Cuban intellectual capital and pharmacological advances to the U.S., specifically to address potential challenges like Zika virus infection and lung cancer treatment, areas where Cuban medical developments are believed to be on par with those in the United States.
Research was an area of particular interest to Cuban Chemical Society President and University of Havana Professor Luis Alberto Montero-Cabrera. He cited data that listed Cuba as 60th worldwide in published research, and sixth among all Latin American nations.
“I must say, it is mostly because our science is made in collaboration with other countries. Even the most successful fields in biotechnology have been made in collaboration with Europe, Asia and many other countries,” he said.
Law has been a primary field of interest for collaborative research in recent years. Last July, the University of the District of Columbia Law School signed a memorandum of understanding with the University of Havana's Law College around legal expertise exchange in the areas of wills and legal rights for elderly citizens. Drake University and the University of Havana extended a collaborative agreement last December to continue specialized research sharing in areas of agricultural law and food preservation statutes, a relationship that began in 2011.
Scholarly capacity could be an essential asset to American research — if the nations can increase academic collaboration. Of the more than 40 MOUs that exist between U.S. colleges and universities and the University of Havana, most only articulate exchange opportunities and future considerations for similar majors.
For a nation that this month will graduate more than 2,600 college students, adding to the more than 1 million graduates the country has produced in the last 50 years, the prospect is something Cuban officials are excited about, but are cautiously optimistic that the two nations will fully develop.
“I do not know of any formal mechanism to actually bring [Cuban] students to the United States,” said Cuban-born University of Texas-El Paso Endowed Professor of Chemistry Luis Echegoyen.