Univer­sity of Mi­ami shuns links with Cuba un­der lo­cal pres­sure

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - Matthew.reisz@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The thaw in re­la­tions be­tween the US and Cuba un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has led many uni­ver­si­ties in both coun­tries to seek new aca­demic part­ner­ships, and this has con­tin­ued de­spite the more hos­tile cli­mate cre­ated by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. One in­sti­tu­tion, how­ever, has de­cided to buck the trend.

In July, the Univer­sity of Mi­ami an­nounced the de­par­ture of Jaime Such­licki, di­rec­tor of its In­sti­tute for Cuban and Cuban­Amer­i­can Stud­ies. Cuban by birth, Dr Such­licki has long been a com­mit­ted op­po­nent of “nor­mal­is­ing” re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries.

Or­gan­i­sa­tions rep­re­sent­ing the Cuban community in the US re­sponded strongly to the news about changes at the ICCAS. The Cuban Re­sis­tance Assem­bly is­sued a state­ment prais­ing Dr Such­licki and stress­ing the need for an aca­demic cen­tre to “study the truth about Cuba, with­out com­pro­mise or am­biva­lence, and about a regime – the Cas­tro regime – that has com­mit­ted and con­tin­ues to com­mit se­ri­ous hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions… as well as crimes against hu­man­ity”. It also ar­gued for “the in­clu­sion of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Cuban ex­ile community as part of the ‘search com­mit­tee’ that will ap­point the new di­rec­tor”.

In re­sponse to such pres­sure, Univer­sity of Mi­ami pres­i­dent Julio Frenk agreed to hold a pri­vate meet­ing with 17 lead­ers of the CubanAmer­i­can ex­ile community. This was fol­lowed by an an­nounce­ment on 18 Au­gust that the univer­sity would “de­velop a mech­a­nism for the Cuban­Amer­i­can community to pro­vide in­put” on the search for a new di­rec­tor and that it “[would] not es­tab­lish any in­sti­tu­tional agree­ments with the cur­rent Cuban gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing its uni­ver­si­ties”.

The In­spire Amer­i­can Foun­da­tion, whose mis­sion is “to in­spire democ­racy in Cuba”, an­nounced that it was pleased to re­ceive the con­crete as­sur­ances it had been seek­ing that the “ICCAS would not be closed or be­come a cen­tre of proCas­tro pro­pa­ganda”. The Cuban Re­sis­tance Assem­bly had ear­lier called for the univer­sity to re­scind the ap­point­ment of in­terim ICCAS di­rec­tor Andy Gomez, who it claims “has been pub­licly recog­nised for pro­mot­ing ven­tures with com­mer­cial en­ter­prises that do busi­ness with Cuba un­der its to­tal­i­tar­ian regime”. It con­tin­ued to ar­gue that there was “a deep con­flict of in­ter­est be­tween par­tic­i­pa­tion in profit­mak­ing ven­tures in Cuba that re­quire en­gage­ment with the Cas­tro regime and an ob­jec­tive and un­bi­ased study of the his­tory and re­al­ity of Cuba and of the Cuban­Amer­i­can community”.

Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion asked the Univer­sity of Mi­ami about the im­pli­ca­tions for aca­demic free­dom of al­low­ing lob­by­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions with strongly held views on Cuban his­tory such an in­flu­ence on the run­ning of an aca­demic cen­tre. The univer­sity de­clined to com­ment fur­ther, be­yond say­ing that “while the search for a per­ma­nent di­rec­tor is un­der way, no pol­icy changes or agree­ments will take place”.

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