Written by: Philippe Buteau/Staff Writer
When the Obama administration removed Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, that was the green light for FIU to consider how it could have a “presence” on the island.
What that presence would be, however, is yet to be determined, according to Francisco Mora, director of the Latin American and Caribbean Center.
The University is waiting for Cuba to be a “more democratic state that respects human rights” before the idea turns into a full-fledged plan, said Mora during an interview on The Claw & Growl, an FIU Student Radio talk show.
“It’s a slow process,” Mora said. “But we will begin engaging with the island.”
He said through possible study abroad and research trips to Cuba the University will be “engaging the island.”
Mora said University President Mark Rosenberg, who established LACC 35 years when he was an assistant professor, proposed the idea of FIU being on the island somehow in the future.
But amid the sensitive politics of the U.S-Cuba breakthrough and the gulf between the countries over questions of academic freedom, American colleges and universities must tread carefully.
“Anything with Cuba can be controversial,” said Jorge Duany, director of the University’s Cuban Research Institute.
The interest, however, is there.
Some 375 American students were in Cuba during the 2010-11 school year when President Barack Obama eased travel restrictions to allow academic work. During 2012-13, there were 1,633, according the Institute of International Education.
Obama further loosened the rules earlier in 2015, allowing more expansive work, and several universities have begun formal research and teaching partnerships with their Cuban counterparts.
The new rules let authorized U.S. companies set up stores, warehouses and offices in Cuba without prior U.S. approval; permit U.S. telecom companies to partner with Cuba’s state phone company; and let authorized U.S. travelers set up bank accounts in Cuba, among many other changes announced on Sept. 19.
The rules build on Obama’s announcement on Dec. 17 that Washington aims to engage with Cuba, not isolate it – reversing more than 50 years of Cold War policies against the communist-led island. The administration since then has eased U.S. travel and trade rules with the island, taking Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism and restored diplomatic relations with Cuba, among other changes.
FIU, less than 250 miles from Havana, hosts one of the nation’s leading centers for Cuban studies, and academic work on the island has long been an attractive prospect.
Its ultimate goal is to build a campus there, although FIU President Mark Rosenberg told the Miami Chamber of Commerce in October 2015 that a Cuban branch is “a long way off.”
For now, the school is focusing on technical fields, such as computer science, business administration and architecture, disciplines less likely to trigger politically charged questions of free speech and academic freedom.
The U.S. embargo on Cuba and ban on U.S. leisure tourism to the island remain in place and can be changed only by Congress.
The U.S. still cannot trade with Cuba nor can it offer lines of credit to its government, businesses or people.
Yet the administration is easing rules “to empower the Cuban people,” senior officials said to reporters during conference call on Sept. 19.
“There is only so much Obama can do to chip away at the embargo,” said Mora, the former deputy secretary of defense for the Western Hemisphere.
Additional reporting from the Tribune News Service.
Image by Balint Foldesi, courtesy of Creative Commons