Hope for US-Cuba scientific cooperation


Scientific cooperation between the U.S. and Cuba received a recent boost with the visit of a US delegation to Havana.  The delegation was led by Peter Agre head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The U.S. delegation went to Cuba for meetings aimed at building a foundation for expanded science and engineering cooperation between the two countries. Agre is a Nobel laureate in chemistry.

The widely respected AAAS is based in the U.S. The visit, November 10 to 13, 2009, brought together nongovernmental science and diplomacy leaders from the United States with science leaders from Cuban institutes and universities and staff from the Cuban Council of State.

The visit was funded by the Lounsbery Foundation, according to the article in Science, AAAS magazine that reported the visit (Mission to Cuba Yields Hope for Expanded S&T Collaboration. Science, VOL 326, 1656). The head of the Foundation, Maxmillian Angerholzer III, is quoted in Science as saying, "Cuba takes so much pride in its science and medical capacities. When you're trying to use science as a way to bring countries together, it's best to do it when there are similar interests and shared goals."

That was one of the accomplishments of the exchange between U.S. and Cuban scientists. U.S. delegation members mentioned several fields where the two nations might work together-from meteorology and marine sciences to infectious diseases and informal science education.

The exchange was only the third since the 1960s. Interest in scientific engagement between the two neighbors is growing. An October 2008 editorial in Science helped lay the groundwork for the visit. It was co-authored by Sergio Jorge Pastrana, foreign secretary of the Academia de Ciencias de Cuba, and Michael T. Clegg, foreign secretary of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Last spring, President Barack Obama opened up a freer flow of information and humanitarian aid to Cuba. Meanwhile, some members of the U.S. Congress are working on easing or ending the ban on travel to Cuba.

An interesting sidelight of the trip was the part played by Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart-Fidel Castro's oldest son. The younger Castro is a nuclear physicist and leader in Cuba's science policy community. Arrangements for the US-Cuba exchange had been delayed by the hurricanes that slammed the length of Cuba last fall. Fortunately, Castro Díaz-Balart attended a conference in Japan and met Vaughan Turekian, the chief international officer of AAAS. Turekian told Science, "I was able to tell him about our planned delegation and the fact that Peter Agre would be leading it. He was very receptive and helped facilitate a meeting with his own staff when we were in Havana."

The main topic of the exchange in Havana was on research collaboration. But the delegation also spent a lot of time talking about making sure that results of their research would be put to work for the people. Science reported how scientist leaders from both countries bonded:

"Agre described 'a spark of friendship' that he experienced in a meeting where he sat with Pastrana and Academia de Ciencias President Dr. Ismael Clark Arxer. 'We didn't know each other before ... but there was a common bond of science that just broke through,' he said."

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