International academic exchange has been a growing practice, especially since the end of the Cold War. In the case of Cuba and the United States, whose relations have been openly hostile in the last 50-plus years, these exchanges took the shape of "academic diplomacy" and kept happening even when the differences between Havana and Washington were at their height. In 2014, while the D17 agreements were a positive catalyst for their development, Donald Trump's arrival in the White House dealt a severe blow to the progress of these exchanges.
Even though that date marked a real opportunity to revitalize Cuba-U.S. academic links ―and there was certainly some progress― the bureaucratic obstacles that both governments put in their way prevented them from making the most of the circumstances and gaining as much ground as it would have been possible otherwise. However, there was a sizeable flow of academic visits to and from Cuba and the U.S., particularly in the last months of the Obama Administration.
President Donald Trump's statements in Miami on June 16, 2017 laid the foundations for his Cuba policy, intended to roll back the rapprochement achieved under Barack Obama's government. Enshrined in Trump's Cuba agenda is the hostile attitude that prevailed during the Cold War, based on actions to reinforce the blockade and hinder any trips to the Island by American citizens.
In this new political context, the academic and cultural exchange between both nations is one of the worst hit activities. These visits have been steadily nosediving since last fall, especially and most noticeably in the case of the educational trips and the enrollment of American undergraduate students in midterm programs and short courses organized by Cuban universities for 2018.
In matters of exchange, it is safe to say that the current atmosphere is one of great tension, even described as "toxic" by the prestigious journal Science and as a true "academic blackout" by some Cuban circles. In my opinion, the climate of "frozen" exchanges which characterized George W. Bush Administration is likely to stage a comeback.
Unfortunately, I think that neither the U.S. universities nor other actors in that country who are involved in these exchanges have come up with a strategy capable of coping with the damage caused by the so-called warnings issued by President Trump. On our side, bureaucracy is focused on other priorities and therefore ill-prepared to "take the bull by the horns" or, as the popular saying goes, to “meterle mano al problema” (pull out all the stops), whereas, needless to say, the American bureaucratic apparatus is even less likely to succeed, despite the fact that many of its officials are in favor of the said Cuba-U.S. academic exchanges.
In light of the current state of affairs, I hold that the academic communities of both countries have no choice but to play a more active role. Together, the Cuban and American academics must face up immediately and proactively to the facts. We should take the stand that William LeoGrande wisely labeled as "academic activism”, in such a way that we can use every available means —mainly those with great potential for mobilization and high academic and media influence— to make the present situation known everywhere. In that way there could be more of us who understand the need to work together in order to stop a regression bound to have very negative consequences. I insist that we must not rule out the possibility that the recent events might lead our respective academic activities to grow further apart, as it happened in the summer of 2004.
So what is left to us? Be resilient, to use a buzzword, and take into account young people and their contribution to this endeavor, ascribable to their mastery of the new information technologies. We must take advantage of our presence in the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), to be held on May 23 to 26 in Barcelona, to disseminate the facts about the cancelled trips and many other obstacles in our path. We need to condemn such facts and think, as one, how to develop recommendations about, and foster action to neutralize, their negative impact on the exchanges.
On our end, we are working (in cooperation with Sheryl Lutjens) on a proposal to establish a panel discussion on this issue during the XVII Annual "Cuba in U.S. Foreign Policy" Conference organized by the Research Center for International Politics (CIPI) and scheduled to be held in Havana in December 2018.
Traducción: Jesus Bran.