U.S. Science Group Seeks Cooperation With Cuba
By Jeff FranksNovember 11, 2009
HAVANA (Reuters) - A group led by the head of the United States' biggest science organization is in Cuba this week to discuss ways to rekindle scientific cooperation as U.S.-Cuba relations slowly improve under U.S. President Barack Obama.
Nobel Prize-winning scientist Peter Agre, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), told Reuters on Wednesday the group had met with government officials and Cuban scientists, all of them enthusiastic about doing science together.
"Nothing concrete so far, but much good will," he said on the second day of a visit that ends on Friday.
The Cubans "are nothing other than warm-hearted about this. They would love to see things move forward," said Agre, who won a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2003.
He said U.S. and Cuban scientists had a long history of working together that continued even after relations between their governments soured following the 1959 revolution that put Fidel Castro in power.
But the last five decades of hostilities, and particularly the years under Obama predecessor George W. Bush, have made joint efforts difficult. The AAAS hopes this will change under Obama.
"Cuba has been kind of a dead zone (for cooperation) because of the separation, but the opportunity to be here is something I'm looking forward to," Agre said. "It's something we would both benefit from."
The AAAS last sent a delegation to Cuba 12 years ago, he said.
The best opportunities for cooperative research appear to lie in medicine, where Cuba's emphasis on public health and vaccine development could prove valuable to the United States, and the environment, particularly shared resources such as the Gulf of Mexico and migratory wildlife, he and delegation members said.
As a start, Agre said, the AAAS will invite several senior Cuban scientists to its annual meeting in February in San Diego.
Obama has said he wants to end hostilities with Cuba, but also that he will maintain the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the communist-led island until the Cuban government makes progress on human rights. Cuba has said human rights are strictly an internal matter not subject to negotiation.
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U.S. Delegation on Science Policy Travels to Cuba
AAAS President Peter C. Agre, a Nobel laureate in chemistry, is among the members of a non-governmental U.S. delegation that will visit Cuba for discussions on science policy from 10-13 November.
The visit includes meetings with leading Cuban scientists and policy officials. It is meant to explore research issues and multilateral science venues that might be conducive to U.S.-Cuba scientific cooperation. The trip comes at a time when scientists in the United States and in Cuba have been urging expanded scientific cooperation between the two nations.
Peter C. Agre
In a 17 October 2008 editorial in the journal Science, Michael Clegg, the foreign secretary of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Sergio Jorge Pastrana, foreign secretary of the Academy of Sciences of Cuba, noted that the U.S. embargo on exchanges with Cuba, established in 1961, continues to hamper scientific cooperation.
The authors called for a new framework for cooperation and urged that the present U.S. license permitting restricted travel to Cuba be expanded to allow direct cooperation in research. President Barack Obama has said he wants to end five decades of bitterness between the two nations.
In addition to Agre, who is director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, the delegation includes:
Anthony (Bud) Rock, chief executive officer of the Association of Science-Technology Centers and a former acting assistant secretary of state for science, technology, environment and health affairs;
Lawrence Wilkerson, professor of government at the College of William and Mary and chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell (2002-2005);
Steve Clemons, director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation;
Vaughan Turekian, AAAS chief international officer and director of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy;
Patrick Doherty, deputy director of the American Strategy Program and director of New America’s U.S.-Cuba Policy Initiative;
Anya Landau French, director of research for New America’s U.S.-Cuba Initiative;
Maximillian Angerholzer, executive director and secretary of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.
The delegation plans to visit the Academy of Sciences of Cuba and the University of Havana. The delegation also anticipates meetings with officials of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment; the Ministry of Higher Education; the Ministry of Public Health; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy provides a forum for scientists, policy analysts and policy-makers to share information and explore collaborative opportunities. The center has been particularly interested in science diplomacy as a catalyst between societies where official relations might be limited, and to strengthen civil society interactions through partnerships in science and technology.
The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science centers and museums dedicated to furthering public engagement with science among increasingly diverse audiences. The association has nearly 600 members in 45 countries, but currently has no member institutions in Cuba.
The New America Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that addresses the next generation of challenges facing the United States. The foundation’s U.S.-Cuba policy initiative seeks a more sensible direction in bilateral relations for the benefit of both countries.
Upon their return, members of the delegation will conduct a series of public and private briefings on the visit and produce a written trip report that will be available to the general public.
10 November 2009