Thursday, August 29, 2013

Academic exchange and U.S.- Cuba relations

There is tremendous potential in academic and cultural exchange to aid in improving relations between the U.S. and Cuba. People to people exchange builds mutual understanding, breaks barriers of ignorance and fear, and builds trusting relationships between the people of differing cultures and nations. This potential, has been recognized by the U.S. and Cuban governments and scholarly communities alike, yet it is not embraced to the extent necessary to enact real change in this area. Acts such as travel bans and the freeze on academic travel to Cuba during as well as the denial of visas for Cuban scholars to attend the LASA annual conference, add further tension to the relationship between the two nations. Academic exchange activist and Professor at the University of Havana, Milagros Martinez Reinosa, commented to Granma newspaper in July 2013 that, "Although technological advances allow us to share research, ideas and theoretical debates in other ways, I believe that the intensity of face-to-face conversations, animated debates in workshops and on panels remain vital for our collective work”[1]. Throughout the many years of inertia with regard to US-Cuba relations, “it is scholars and scientists in the two countries who have maintained intellectual and academic relations” [2]. Although the political policies, economic sanctions, blockade and travel bans have made progress difficult if not impossible between the U.S. and Cuba, there is still hope for improvement in the form of academic and cultural exchange.

In 2011, after 8 years of travel ban, President Obama relaxed the travel restrictions for US citizens to Cuba and allowed for certain types of travel including academic, research and cultural ‘people-to-people’ visits. [3]

For those interested in learning more about legal travel to Cuba, the ‘Comprehensive Guidelines for License Applications for Travel-relatedTransactions Involving Cuba’ can be found at the U.S. Department of the Treasury website. [4]  

From my own experience on our academic exchange trip to Cuba, I know that I never would have begun to understand the reality of the Cuban situation without witnessing and experiencing Cuba first hand. From my short 2 week visit, I cannot say that I was able to comprehend all the complexities of Cuban reality, yet I am better equipped, with this first-hand experience, to understand Cuba, its people, culture and history, and the transformations the country is experiencing today and share those realities with others back home. Maybe more people will be able and interested enough to take their own cultural exchange visit to Cuba, and experience the amazement of the island for themselves.

[1] GONZÁLEZ DELGADO, DALIA. " - LASA: Cuba-United States Academic Forum." - LASA: Cuba-United States Academic Forum. Granma, 5 July 2013. Web. Aug. 2013.
[2] Alzugaray, Carlos, et al. "Retreat From Reason: U.S.-Cuban Academic Relations and the Bush Administration." The Latin America Working Group Education Fund (September 2006): Web. Jul 2013.[3] Martinez Reinosa, Milagros. "Cuba and the United States: New Opportunities for Academic Diplomacy." LASA Forum Spring XLII.2 (2011): 4-6. Web.[4] "COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA." OFFICE OF FOREIGN ASSETS CONTROL U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY, 10 May 2012. Web. Aug. 2013.


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