HEIKE MICHELSEN: Welcome to all of you to this very special roundtable discussion today. I, on behalf of the director of the Einaudi Center, Fredrik Logevall, I would like to a very specially welcoming you. I'm Heike Michelsen. I'm the director of programming at the Einaudi Center. And I leave it up to Tim DeVoogd, the director of the Latin American Studies program, to introduce our very special guests that we have here with us from Cuba. Unfortunately and contrary to what you had in the official program, we were not able to welcome here today Isel Pascual Alonso, who, unfortunately, couldn't get a visa to come here. So instead, we have organized this very special discussion over Skype, and we really hope and keep our fingers crossed that the technical aspects will all work out with our panel.
So this event is jointly organized by the Latin American Studies program here at Cornell and the Einaudi Center, and it's part of a series that we started a few years now ago, a roundtable discussion series that really tries to feature different experts in international affairs, who can address topical and current issues from a number of different perspectives. And it's just another flagship program and initiative that we have as part of our Foreign Policy Forum. And this forum emerged from the understanding that we really have to contribute to a lot of the current debates that are ongoing and Cornell has a lot to do and to contribute in this area. And I think what better than to choose a topic like the new US-Cuban relationships.
So we're very grateful for organizing this event and definitely for the support from the Bartels family. Without this, all wouldn't be possible. So in the past, Cornell has engaged with Cuba, but focusing on ecology, ornithology, and Professor DeVoogd has developed and designed a program for undergraduate science students to spend a semester at the University of Havana and assist faculty members in research. But now, given the change of the new diplomatic relations between our two governments, participants in the roundtable today will discuss the implications towards future research and collaboration. Again, I welcome all of you and, particularly, Professor Tim DeVoogd, who will introduce all the speakers of today. Thank you.
TIM DEVOOGD: I'd like to welcome all of you as well. Most of you would know that Cuba has been a conundrum for the United States for the last 50 years. I'm going to make the case for even longer than that. Most of you would know as well that the United States has been a conundrum for Cuba for the last 50 years, and I'm going to make the case longer than that as well. This is a great time to be discussing changes.
It's-- the changes originate at the very top with our president and with the leader of Cuba right now. It's not clear where things are going to go. It's not clear how fast they'll go. And so what I'd like to do is give you, those of you that may not be completely up to date on it, give you a quickie tour of Cuban history, and then we'll start talking with Lynn Roche, who is at the US intersection in Havana, and a very special piece of today's presentation will be interactions with the first Cornell students to be at the University of Havana. And then we have Ken Roberts and Gustavo Flores Macias from our government department and Eduardo Inigo-Elias from the Laboratory of Ornithology, who are welcome to make comments about different aspects of what you hear.
So with that as the preamble, what I'd like to do, if we can make the technology work, is switch over to my PowerPoint for a few minutes, and then we'll go into the other comments.
Columbus landed at Cuba when he sailed from Spain in 1492. Within a few years, there were a number of cities founded in Cuba. Within a few years, the indigenous population was either dead or slaves, and Cuba became a base point for shipping riches from the Western hemisphere back to Spain. This is El Morro Castle, which was where Spain, in Cuba, tried to prevent the British, the French, the Dutch, and, on occasion or later, the Americans from taking things away.
Slavery was legal in Cuba, and, in fact, there was a period of time in the 1700s when Britain took possession of Cuba for two or three years and brought in a great many additional slaves to work the cane fields. I'm going to skip over hundreds of years of history and move to the 1800s, when Jose Marti became the voice of Cuban protest against Spain and, ultimately, the voice of Cuban independence, although at that point, he was dead.
Many of you may not know that Jose Marti traveled widely. He was liable for arrest in Cuba. He spent a great deal of time in the US, and in the 1880s, he came to Ithaca. Some of you can read the Spanish. I've asked Gustavo if he could translate it for us.
GUSTAVO FLORES-MACIAS: A very rough translation of this would be along the lines of, "Cornell in Ithaca it's a magnificent university. It is the modern university. No to the academies of pupils where they break them in. No to the academies where they exploit and neglect them. No to the literary academies where they do not acquire the benefits of literature, for they forget their own and do not learn the new one.
Note to violently disrupting the spirit already shaped by the native winds with a foreign one that contradicts it. No to this. This is not where we should send Latin American children, but to Cornell University, based on the knowledge and the needs of modern life, without looking down on the good that previous periods had to offer. To Cornell University, where, through the virtual work, they acquire the universal tools that modern life requires."
TIM DEVOOGD: We couldn't say it better today, right? And, in fact, in the negotiations I carried out with the University of Havana, this is something I went in with. I said, if you've got to make a deal with anyone, make it with us, because we have a long history together.
Jose Marti was active with the fighters in Cuba trying to get independence from Spain. All the rest of Latin America had done so in the 18-teens and '20s, and Cuba was still-- and Puerto Rico-- were still not independent. Much of the Spanish forces had been defeated by the 1890s. Spain was in the process of pulling back, and then the US decided to help things along. And so we sent in soldiers.
In the lower picture, they're taking a hill near Guantanamo. In the upper picture, it's the Rough Riders with Teddy Roosevelt attacking some hills in the extreme eastern side of Cuba. We then finish things off that the Cubans themselves had started and assume that that gave us the right to dictate terms. We took control of Cuba for about four years, and then gave them the independence that they'd been working for.
However, under the Constitution that we approved, the US retained the right to intervene in Cuban affairs to supervise its finances and to tell them how they should run their foreign relations. Early on as well, the Platt Amendment was passed under which the US leased the Guantanamo Naval base from Cuba in perpetuity. Just a side note here-- since Fidel Castro took over at the end of 1959, the US has continued to pay rent on the Guantanamo Naval base. My understanding is that those checks have been piling up in Fidel's desk. Not one of them has ever been cashed.
But going back to the early years of the 1900s, Cuba became a party place for the US. Under the enlightened leadership of President Batista, in the upper left there, he made a deal. He made a deal with the US mafia in which for payment of somewhere between a quarter of a million and a million dollars, plus more money under the table, anyone could open a casino. And a great many were opened, supervised by Meyer Lansky with the occasional help of Frank Sinatra. Ernest Hemingway hung out there and the ubiquitous ugly American tourist as well.
The mafia had a summit at the National Hotel in Cuba in the mid-1950s, where they not only divided up criminal activities in Cuba. They also divided up criminal activities in the US. I talked to somebody. I talked to an uncle of Alexis [? Santi ?] a couple of years ago, who could remember, as a boy, his family flying over to Miami for dinner and then coming back in the evening. Miami and Havana are closer together than we are to New York City.
And as in this picture, there was a great deal of commerce, not all of it salubrious going back and forth in the 1950s. Starting in 1956 and continuing to '59, Fidel Castro led a revolution, ultimately successful. There remains a lot of controversy about how the estrangement occurred between the US and Cuba. Certainly, the story is told differently in Cuba than it is here.
In any case, fairly quickly, there were many people who became refugees and left Cuba and wanted to defeat Fidel. They formulated a plan to invade Cuba. Castro and his government found out details about the plan and defeated the invading force at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961. I've been there, and there are billboards mile after mile saying, this is where our commanding general set up his headquarters. This is where our troops massed. This is where the furthest advance of the Yankee invaders, and this is the place where they set foot in Cuba. It's still regarded as a high point in Cuban history that the invasion was put down. There's a museum there that shows some of the military equipment used by the Cubans to do this.
A year and a half later, there was the Cuban Missile Crisis. My colleagues from history and government know many more of the details than I do, but I think the consensus is that by staging a half-assed invasion, there were many people in the world who thought that the US had sort of lost its mind and thought that it would be possible to put weapons in Cuba without our really mounting much of a coherent defense. In fact, it seemed like a quid pro quo, given that we were installing missiles in Turkey, a few hundred miles away from Russia. Why couldn't Russia put some missiles in Cuba a few hundred miles from us?
In October, our overflights found the missiles, and our flights over cargo ships in the ocean revealed jet fighters that were being brought to Cuba. Major crisis-- ultimately, a deal was struck between Nikita Khrushchev and President Kennedy saying, we're both going to back away. You're going to promise that you never invade Cuba. We're going to promise that we take out all the weapons.
And then 50 years of cold relations ensued, where we imposed an embargo on virtually all US goods going to Cuba. Cuba had very strong relations with the Soviet Union, which then, of course collapsed when the Soviet Union collapsed. There was a desperate time in Cuba then with the loss of revenue and the loss of basic goods. People in Cuba starved to death during that time. I've talked to people who tried to find grasses that they could cook, who tried to find pets that weren't leashed. It was an awful time in Cuba.
And then, gradually, the Cuban economy, such as it was, came together to at least sustain its own citizens. In recent years, the embargo's continued in place. In recent years, the US has had a policy that's been called Wet Foot, Dry Foot, in which if a Cuban arrives to the United States by any means and sets foot on the soil in the US, he or she can ask for asylum. But if they're interdicted on the high seas, they get sent back to Cuba.
In recent years, there's been honest and fruitful collaboration and cooperation in a number of situations. In family issues, where if a US parent takes a child to Cuba that he or she doesn't have permission to take, the Cubans return the child and vice versa. In hijackings, there was a period of time in the '790s when people would hijack airplanes and take them to Cuba. US and Cuba signed a deal where hijackings in either direction get returned. In drugs, Cuba is, if anything, more anti-drug than the US is, and the two countries work together in drug interdiction. Environment and conservation, which is a place where Eduardo has had interactions with Cuba.
Now I became interested in Cuba. I first went, I think about three, 3 and 1/2 years ago. And I have a couple of stories. I had a whole list here, as you see. I have just a couple stories that, for me, illustrate what it's like to be interacting with Cuba. And until you do it, until you spend some time there, until you realize the-- you don't realize the extent to which things are not as they seem, are not another developing Latin American country but are different.
Skipping around, a friend of mine, from Germany, went with some Cuban scientists to catch bats for research. Where do you catch bats? In a cave. And so they went to a large cave and started looking for bats, and when they came out, there were heavily armed soldiers right outside asking them what the hell they were doing in the cave. They tried to explain that they were scientists going after bats, and any of you who are biologists know that when you try to explain what you do, most people don't really get it. And so they had to spend the night in jail.
It turned out that-- this was just a few years ago. It turned out that in the back of the cave, there were weapons and tanks that had been placed there as reserve materials for when the US invades. Official government policy is that the US is still planning on invading and that the Cubans need to be prepared for this. It works both ways. I was working at the State Department five years ago. I applied through channels within the State Department and within the Treasury Department for permission to go to a conference in Cuba. I indicated that it was legitimate. I got permission to go to the conference on the day of the conference. There was a way in which both sides continued to, at that point-- to a degree, still-- work to keep each other apart.
I was invited to give a talk at the Cuban Institute of Neuroscience, and then when the date came close, I was told that, unfortunately, scheduling conflicts had come up and that they would have to schedule it for some other undefined time. I accepted that. Those things happen, and I was later told by some of the students from the place, once they became friends and once they trusted me, I was later told that in the in-between time, the head of the Institute had decided that I had to be a CIA spy, that there was no other reason I could possibly be there.
I've been in the homes of a number of Cubans, who live in big apartment buildings in Havana. And in virtually every one, there's some free enterprise person who has put a TV antenna on the roof of the apartment building and has run cable down through the apartment building, charging $1 or $2 a month to get Miami TV and facing a fine of upwards to $1,000 if he or she is ever discovered, because it's illegal to do this. You have to remember that any person employed legally in Cuba is making somewhere on the order of $30 or $35 a month.
And in spite of the paranoia, in spite of the long history of bad relations over the last two years, starting with me and continuing with Cornell Abroad, we've created an agreement with the University of Havana, in which our students can go and be in classes part time and be in research labs part time. And here's an illustration of some of this with Emanuel Mora, who is in the upper left, who is one of the people coordinating the research there. Upper right are people in his lab, and bottom shows students associated with biology and neurosciences in Cuba.
That part is really neat and exciting. And then you look around Havana, and you see how drab, how rundown, how much there is that would need to be done if Cuba's ever to be one of the more prosperous Latin American countries. Of course, things are changing. Of course, that's the reason we're having this meeting today. Fidel and Barack are talking, literally talking face-to-face. And so the question then is, what happens next?
Is there hope for the future between the US and Cuba? I saw that when I was there in January. Let me transfer the things back again, and hopefully, it's all going to work. So hopefully, now, we will join Lynn Roche, who is the public affairs officer for the US in Havana. She's been instrumental in coordinating high level visits that have been going on between-- from the US to Cuba. She's also been helpful to us in making our students feel at home there. We have her on the video now. Hi, Lynn.
LYNN ROCHE: Hi, Tim.
TIM DEVOOGD: And hopefully, the-- good. And on the left of the screen is Ian Pengra, who I think is from Cals, and on the right is Wesley Schnapp, who is from Arts. They are Cornellians, and they are ones who are the pioneers in this program. And take it away, guys. I'd like to hear your thoughts, Lynn, about how things are changing and what's going to happen next. I'd like to hear some stories from Ian and Wesley about how you do research in Cuba, how you celebrate May Day in Cuba, or anything else they care to tell us about.
LYNN ROCHE: OK, great. Thanks. Sorry we had flipped off there for a little bit, and it's really great to be, I have to say, back there at Cornell because I worked at the Center for International Studies for the Peace Studies program in 1979 to 1982, so I'm not sure if anyone in the room was around then, but anyway, nice to be back.
A couple things-- just a little bit of how things are going from the perspective here at the US intersection, and I'm not sure if I can tell you where things are going, but maybe what we think we'll be coming up. It's really a time of tremendous opportunity. I'm in my third year now in Havana, and we can see the increasing engagement on both sides, not just because of what the two presidents said on December 17th, but also, what's been happening over the past couple of years.
The opening for academic exchanges that the Obama administration made in 2009, somewhere around 2011, we've seen an increase in the number of American universities and students, professors, who are engaging with Cuban academic institutions. The same is true for some of the changes happening here in Cuba, especially in January of 2013, when they made changes to their immigration law, and Cubans did not have to receive an exit permit to travel.
So that word, "coming and going," from both sides has really opened up the dialogue a lot on all sorts of areas. We're looking at brain conservation, looking at the arts, looking at English language instruction and learning languages. Many, many different fields-- there's just been a lot more happening between the two countries over the past couple years.
Now the current [? directive ?] from December 17 is changing the direction of US-Cuba policy has been enormous. Lots of expectations here. Lots of expectations in the US. There is, I think, a general sense that we are working in this direction. We heard it from both presidents that said we will reestablish diplomatic relations. We will open embassies in each other's capitals. So we're working in that direction. We're not quite sure when that will be yet, but in the next couple of months, I would say it'll happen in the next year, within the next year, and we'll see.
In terms of the interaction and engagement between our two countries, we've also seen that step [INAUDIBLE] since December 17. Some of that [INAUDIBLE] others taking advantage of the change in the [INAUDIBLE] regulations for visiting Cuba. And some of that is just the sense that there's more that we can talk about and different directions we can go. It doesn't mean that all the limitations have been removed on both sides. There are still limitations from the US side, there [AUDIO OUT] some limitations.
And there is still a sense that we're waiting for a response on this side to see where things are going and what you're willing to take on-- what you're willing to engage and where we can find some common ground to all interests.
Just by way of background-- and as I mentioned before that there has been a lot going on between the two countries and things are growing-- is that even though we do not have diplomatic relations, we are the largest mission here in Havana. So we have probably one of the biggest buildings, but also have the staff of any other foreign mission. We are now the second largest source of visitors to Cuba after Canada. And many of those of course are Cuban-Americans coming back to visit family and friends. But that's it.
We're also the second largest source of foreign exchange. A good portion of that is from remittances, which are at about $3 billion a year. And about half a million dollars sales, food, and other items. That was the number from 2013. It goes up and down a little bit, but roughly that.
Where we are, say, in terms of the US interest section is looking to build out, heading in the direction of a the normal embassy's exchange program with Cuba. And you probably have experienced in many other countries where that there is an international visitor program. There may be full-ride programs, free programs, the [INAUDIBLE] institutes, a number of programs that are on the regular menu of academic, educational, and cultural exchange programs offered through the Department of State. So we start those in the visitor program slowly in small numbers over the past couple of years. And now we have also an agreement with the Cuban authorities-- with the government of Cuba to have a candidate for a [? Humphrey ?] fellowship in the fall of 2016.
The other part, aside from working specifically with the Cuban government on these exchanges, is looking for different targets of opportunity to where US government and State Department either support or facilitation can make exchanges grow. And that's, I think, where we are with Cornell. There was some other universities and different kinds of programs as well, where we can perhaps provide some other human resources, financial resources, or communication that might facilitate an exchange program, especially if it was Cubans visiting the United States.
One of the other areas, just to mention at the end, is that we're also looking to build out our ability to support English language teaching in Cuba for the past couple-- mostly teaching English, but we're looking at ways that we can support both language learning and toward that end so more Cuban students could participate in programs in the States. And along with that is being able to begin offering ETS-- educational testing services-- here in Havana and perhaps [AUDIO OUT] so that Cuban students could take the regular standardized test.
There's still a lot to overcome here in the process of looking for different steps that will build confidence between the US-- that is to say the US government and Cuban institutions. So that's important for us to find ways to connect with young Cubans, young students, and young educators. One of tremendous pieces to look at, which we've talked about as well is financial support because of the difference between our two countries and the cost of education. So that's something that is out on the table.
And a concern as well for Cuban authorities will be Cuban students and making opportunities for them to reach to Cuba. That is, why should they study in the United States and return to Cuba and not stay in the United States. Too many young Cubans are still trying to get to the United States and stay. And we would really like to see the educational exchanges, the academic or scientific exchanges or opportunities to go to the states, but then go back to Cuba and participate in their country's future. So I'll stop there. And Ian, do want to--
TIM DEVOOGD: Well, let me let me just toss something in here, which I wanted to mention to you folks, which is that Lynn has been able to come up with funding for two Cuban students to come to Cornell this summer. And so that is a marvelous opportunity for those two people. And with what she said about starting up the Humphrey program, I wanted to pass on to you Lynn, that I think we have somewhere between 12 and 15 Humphrey people each year here at Cornell. And we would love to host the start of that program as well.
LYNN ROCHE: Thanks, Tim.
IAN PENGRA: So I guess I can start with doing research in Cuba. It's really interesting doing research in Cuba because there's really, really smart, passionate professors and students here who, a lot of the time don't necessarily have access to the same kinds of funding that the research does in the states.
I've been thinking specifically for Professor Emanuel Mora. And he's a really passionate guy. And every time you talk to him, he's just always thinking of questions and thinking up experiments. And so his focus on looking for really important questions to ask that you can access with limited technology is really inspiring to me. And the sense of Cuban ingenuity really comes through with them in his experimental-- when he's helping us build experiments and ask really important questions that need to be asked. Then how do we address those questions?
It's just really an amazing experience being able to work with such brilliant people. And I'm really grateful that I've been able to come here and do research here with some amazing professors, even though it's not necessarily something that you would expect that you can have top-notch research happening in a developing country. It's absolutely the case here.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: It's not easy. And also even beyond the research, just being here in Cuba is such a great experience and how we can couple that with this really cool experience of research. Taking classes at the University of Havana and learning about the culture, and being involved in this change is really interesting and a lot of fun.
TIM DEVOOGD: So would either of you like to like to give us some specific examples? I'm thinking here of your owl, if you'd like to tell us about that. Also Wesley, I talked to your mother yesterday. And she said that you happened to get up very, very early on Friday.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Yeah, on Friday was May Day-- well, May Day was for May first. But it's the socialist holiday of basically, Workers Day-- Labor Day in Cuba. And so basically on this day, the entire country wakes up at 6:00 AM and goes on the streets and marches to the Plaza de la Revolucion and carrying signs, chanting about viva la revolucion and viva cuba libre. It was an interesting experience. There were thousands of people walking and marching all around us.
I don't know. I think Raul Castro was out there somewhere. I didn't see him. But it was really cool.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, and the president of Venezuela was on the Plaza de la Revolucion also. And there was dozens of signs for-- especially in solidarity of pro-Venezuela, signs of--
You could see groups of people who, for example, worked in Cupet, the national Cuban petroleum company. I guess the company would organize that everyone gets matching uniforms so that you could tell that this was like the Cupet, the group of people, of Cupet workers marching together, and in solidarity with the revolutions. And yeah, it was a crazy, pretty much quintessentially Cuban experience to see all that happening at once.
TIM DEVOOGD: Maybe this would be a good point to ask the other people in the panel if they have questions for Lynn or for the students.
KENNETH ROBERTS: I'd be curious in knowing just what your actual research or your studies entail. Is there a particular course of study, or particular research projects that you're working on?
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Yeah, so our research has to do with the bioacoustics of bats. And so we're working with Emmanuel on-- well, first of all, we're doing this specific research project about distress calls from bats. And we are studying what indicates that urgency of the distress call.
And so we have come up with an experiment, hypothesis that basically has to do with what indicates the urgency, which is I guess, non-linearity. We're still figuring it out because we don't have the results yet.
We go out to field every week for six or seven hours and collect data. Do you want to take it from there?
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, so just [INAUDIBLE] a distress call is when a bat gets captured by say an owl or a boa constrictor. It makes this cheep cheep sound that's in the audible range of less than 20 kilohertz. And so we want the [INAUDIBLE] apart to get what's fundamentally saying, whether this is an extremely urgent distress call, or whether this is something that maybe isn't so urgent.
So what we're doing is we're-- so Emmanuel, for one of his previous student's master's thesis recorded 100 distress calls from different species.
And so we're using those distress calls and then we modify them in different ways. For example, we played with the order of the syllables. We played with the [INAUDIBLE] of the distress call. We played with the [INAUDIBLE] cycle. We were playing with different parameters. Basically, see which characters can elicit a supernormal response.
And we're measuring the response as the number of echolocation per minute. So basically, the amount that bats in the area are paying attention to the source of the distress call, which is just a loudspeaker next to [INAUDIBLE].
And to talk about the [INAUDIBLE]. So what Tim was talking about a little earlier, that was a whole project in itself. So in Cuba, we don't exactly have something like-- you can't just go to a Walmart and buy a stuffed owl, because nothing like that exists.
So we had to do was make a papier-mache owl. And then we had to cover it with feathers somehow. So what we ended up doing was I think Emmanuel found a dead dessicated bird when he was walking down the beach one day. And then he brought it to us, and then we had to all the feathers-- dead bird.
So we have actual feathers. And then we had to make a papier-mache owl and glue all these feathers onto the papier-mache owl so that it looked like-- that it actually looked like an owl so that the bats would have something to direct their echolocations at.
So to make it [INAUDIBLE] relevant experiment. Because the idea is that we're simulating a situation where an owl caught a bat, and this bat is getting different kind of distress calls.
So to make the owls-- it wasn't just us two. It was Emmanuel went up to one of his faculty friends in the psychology department and asked for a bunch of their undergraduates to come and help us make these papier-mache owls. It probably took like 30, 40 man hours of work to make.
It was such a big collaboration between us, just to make this papier-mache owl, which in the United States, you probably could have just bought a taxidermy owl. But that is just not the reality that's at all accessible in Cuba.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: We got to be creative.
TIM DEVOOGD: So other questions? Here.
EDUARDO INIGO-ELIAS: Can you tell us more about your experience in Cuba with Cuban students? You have talked about your experience with Emmanuel as a professor at the University of Havana. But how is your interactions with other students at University of Havana?
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Yeah. So like I said, we are taking one class at the University of Havana, which is just a Spanish class. But we're also living with almost 40 exchange students in our house. All of them are taking classes at the University of Havana. They're taking four or five classes there. So they are meeting more students in the university. They're able to meet more.
So we've been able to make a lot of friends in the university through them. And we're able to participate in university events, where we can talk with the university students, so talk about their life here and whatever, be friendly with them.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, most of them take auditing-- or was auditing a course until it ended in history and theory of Marxist-Leninism, which is a pretty Cuban class, [INAUDIBLE]. And that's all Cuban students with a couple of foreign students who are just taking it.
And I would say I definitely have made a lot of friends with the Cuban students. And I don't know, I would say that the interactions with Cuban students was really just like any other interactions with American students, except for the fact that there's a lot more curiosity of how each other's cultures works.
For example, one day, I was just sitting in class, and then I started talking to the person next to me. And then she just told me how her this friend who was trying to go to Miami, and she was leaving the next-- she was leaving, like, something later in the year. I don't know. That was the thing that came to mind.
We also have a lot of Cuban [INAUDIBLE] university, and then also we're friends with our [INAUDIBLE]. And we just [INAUDIBLE] go out-- well, I go out and play dominoes with them sometimes, like midnight until like 2:00 in the morning. And what else?
Interactions with Emmanuel are just amazing. He's become a key source of inspiration for me.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: And something that's really cool that we did outside the city is we went to a field to go do work, and it was in the backyard of this barn. So we were able to kind of get a look at the culture there and how they do all this farm work, and what their life is like that they're in, how they're always constantly working. They get so little money. So we were able to kind of get that [INAUDIBLE] as well, which was really interesting.
IAN PENGRA: One thing that really has always stuck out to me about all my interactions with Cubans, but especially in the countryside, is how really open people are to just share everything, the little that they have.
Like, when we went to go to the cave this weekend and we stayed on this water buffalo ranch, they brought out a leg of chicken. They brought out some blocks of water buffalo cheese, water buffalo milk, just like a bowl of soup-- they really brought out everything that was in their fridge and they offered it to us. And these are people who are making $6 a month at that.
And it wasn't because we were Americans. It wasn't because we had to be, because we-- it was just because we were their guests. They just wanted to share everything that they had with us.
And it's really interesting that the common sentiment with every Cuban that I've met is that the government's doing its own thing, flashing on one level, but the people just-- there's no sense of [AUDIO OUT] between Cubans and Americans here. The embargo is-- everyone here believes the embargo as something that happens between the Cuban government and the American government, not the Cuban people and the American people. And that's been something that has really stuck with me.
I was expecting some kind of hostility or unhappiness at the fact that we're American and America has been making incredibly difficult for Cuba for the last 15 years. But I really haven't felt any of that. People are just really, really open.
TIM DEVOOGD: Do any of you have questions for Lynn?
SPEAKER 3: What are the chances that President Obama will visit before the end of his term?
LYNN ROCHE: Well, that depends on how quickly we can reestablish relations and raise the flag. So it's a priority for our government. We're negotiating details. We're kind of down to a couple of pieces still on the table that both sides believe are important for being able to open embassies and [INAUDIBLE] like embassies. So I think that's sort of where we are.
But as Ian mentioned, the course of just basic engagement and human relations, and even our relations as official Americans here are moving along at a pretty quick pace. There are things that aren't going to happen until we have diplomatic relations.
But there a lot that is happening. And I think that's the policy, really, of the administration. President Obama's announcement was that engagement is what's going to make a difference in how the two countries can move forward as neighbors.
So it's a busy time. I'm not going to be able to predict when President Obama might come. But I'm sure that's on the table, on someone's table. Thanks.
TIM DEVOOGD: And I'm wondering at this point, what you guys think. Would it be better for us to be talking about the things that we've just been hearing, or would it be better to get some questions for the Havana people, as long as we have the connection?
EDUARDO INIGO-ELIAS: I have one question. You mentioned earlier, Lynn, that one of the issues that still affecting the policies in the US and Cuba is that wet dry and wet foot policy, which is only applied to one country in the world, and that's Cuba. And that has led to many Cuban scientists, especially young scientists and young students, to leave their families, their society, and look for refuge here in the US.
When they arrive in the US, sometimes this has happened. It had happened to Cornell. Do you know with this new era of relationships, if it's going to be possible that that is going to be changed? Because many Cubans are worrying that that policy will change. And some people are jumping into the ocean, trying to come back to the shores in the US, risking their lives.
Do you know anything about it, what is happening?
LYNN ROCHE: Well, for the Cuban Adjustment Act, that is still in effect. And that's a policy that's [INAUDIBLE]. So that it enables Cubans to be able to come to the States. And they essentially are not ever legal in the United States, and they can immediately declare that they want to stay in the United States.
It's very controversial. It is creating and perhaps has created a lot of discussion, a lot of rumors nowadays about what's happening. It's not something that's being discussed currently in looking at the negotiations for reestablishing [INAUDIBLE] opening-- re-establishing relations and opening embassies. So that's not a [INAUDIBLE]. It's something that is looked at with President Obama's reforms, immigration reforms.
But also, very controversial. It's as you said yourself, many Cubans now are trying to get to the states, that they can become US legal residents. It's when do you stop that, or how do you stop it, or how to create the situation here-- Cuba-- that people are not interested in even trying that.
We work closely with Cuban border guard. And our Coast Guard work to try to minimize the dangers for Cubans. But many Cubans are still in kind where they want to take those [INAUDIBLE].
We continue to look for ways to have safe, legal, and orderly immigration. But the situation here in Cuba, that's still a concern, an issue for us. I don't see it changing overnight or changing for reestablished relations.
It's very controversial in the States. You've got one side who says that we think it should still be legal for Cubans to come, that Cubans need to have asylum, that they need the benefit, and many others who say, well, that they don't. It's a debate.
It's also a debate here among Cubans. I don't see how that will be resolved in the near term. But it is definitely [AUDIO OUT] and people talk about it both in the government and outside the government all the time.
TIM DEVOOGD: Well, I want to-- for the panel to discuss some of the issues that have been raised here. But maybe before we get to that, do any of you have questions that you'd like to direct to Wesley and Ian, or to Lynn Roche from the interest section?
AUDIENCE: I imagine they can't hear me.
TIM DEVOOGD: I'll relay it.
AUDIENCE: My question is for Lynn and her experience as a researcher working through the-- how does she make time for her research [INAUDIBLE].
TIM DEVOOGD: Lynn is part of the consulate, or the interest section. She's not a researcher.
AUDIENCE: OK, well then in which case, a broader question, how are researchers able to continue research in terms of [INAUDIBLE]?
TIM DEVOOGD: So to the two of you, Wesley and Ian, the question is, given the kinds of difficulties that you were talking about, how is it possible for researchers to continue doing decent research in Cuba?
IAN PENGRA: I would say hard work, smart people, and creativity. That's really the answer that Emmanuel has been stressing since we got here.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: And they do have some equipment. You know, we got some money through Cornell-- actually, through my mom who donated it, but through a grant to get more equipment. And they get these sorts of grants where they can have money to buy equipment they can use, although it is limited. It is still possible.
Like Ian said, you really just have to deal with what you have and be creative and work hard.
LYNN ROCHE: I would say too, that again, these changes have enabled more and more Cubans to travel overseas for conferences, for research-- not just to the states, but to Spain, or Argentina, to go to Chile, to go to Canada, wherever, that all of that, again, it is sort of creating opportunities for academics and researchers to establish better contacts and keep in touch with the rest of the world and do a lot of joint research.
ALEXIS: What advice would Ian or Wesley have for US students who want to or desire to go and study in Cuba? What do they wish they knew beforehand?
TIM DEVOOGD: What Alexis is asking what advice you would have for US students who are contemplating going and studying in Cuba, or another way of framing it, are there things that you wish you had known before you got there?
WESLEY SCHNAPP: There are definitely a lot of things that I didn't expect, that I wish I knew. But then again, I didn't really know what to expect as I was going. Can you think of anything?
IAN PENGRA: Anything you want, bring to Cuba. Because there's a lot of things that you can't find all the time. Like if you want chocolate, you should bring it with you. If you want hot sauce, bring it with you. [INAUDIBLE]
LYNN ROCHE: You can buy chocolate.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Yeah, but it's not good chocolate.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, yeah.
IAN PENGRA: But I would say little things like that, but--
WESLEY SCHNAPP: In terms of things that I didn't expect, I think a lot of it is you just kind of have to do trial and error kind of things, like kind of learn on your own. I kind of like that, honestly. It was frustrating at some points, figuring out how to use the internet and figuring out how to use the phone--things like that.
I think it's important to do trial and error, because it's part of the experience. But for anything super important, I don't think there was anything else I really needed to know.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, I think it was mostly thought small things, like getting used to living in the school had other difficulties and paradoxes. But I guess the one thing that I would say was the internet situation is-- it's basically like you have to either deal with incredibly slow internet at the university and sign up for an account there and this, that, and the other thing. Or you can buy internet cards and then go to any hotel, which is only like a 10 minute walk from [INAUDIBLE].
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Getting internet cards-- internet cards takes, like, three hour-- [INAUDIBLE] sometimes it takes two or three hours to get.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah, because you have to stand in a line--
WESLEY SCHNAPP: It isn't systematic.
IAN PENGRA: Yeah.
WESLEY SCHNAPP: Anyway, so then you get the internet cards, then you have to walk 10 or 15 minutes to a hotel and use it there. But it sometimes doesn't work, and-- yeah.
IAN PENGRA: So it's a bit of a process, but it's not unbearable. It's definitely super livable. And I think it was an adventure just getting used to living here.
TIM DEVOOGD: And we have one more question.
AUDIENCE: This is actually just a very brief infrastructural question. I've been to Cuba a few times, used the internet, and I do not know how this is happening right now. Because there is no way I can Skype with anyone from Cuba.
TIM DEVOOGD: So this is somebody who has been to Cuba and is amazed that we have this Skype connection. And I know the answer to that. It's because the interest section maintains its own system. So they're at the interest section right now. And I believe it's a microwave connection to Miami, which the rest of Cuba doesn't have.
LYNN ROCHE: But the internet is definitely one of the-- the internet and access to internet is definitely one of the pieces President Obama's change in direction and policy toward Cuba. And so being able to support access to information, opening up opportunities for telecommunications to be able to meet and talk with Cuban officials, how you support broader infrastructure development in Cuba is really a central piece of the direction and policy.
So we have a little sliver of it here. It's not unlimited bandwidth. It can certainly go down at a moment's notice when we have a thunderstorm. But it does work.
AUDIENCE: Yeah, just I think the communication in [INAUDIBLE] that was built from Venezuela to Cuba. These people was [INAUDIBLE] and now that [INAUDIBLE] starting to work. So the communication, internet connection is going to improve and is improving as we speak. [INAUDIBLE].
TIM DEVOOGD: A member of the audience is pointing out that President Hugo Chavez paid for a cable from Venezuela. I've heard about this cable starting three or four years ago, and it wasn't working until recently. And Lourdes is pointing out that there's some evidence that it's starting to be used now.
AUDIENCE: And actually, the [INAUDIBLE]
TIM DEVOOGD: OK, what I'd like to do is ask the panelists for their thoughts. And you guys are welcome to hang out and hear what they say, or we can hang up the connection right now.
IAN PENGRA: I guess that's it.
LYNN ROCHE: We'll stay on for a bit.
TIM DEVOOGD: OK. Salve, you want to start?
GUSTAVO FLORES-MACIAS: I'm happy to start. Thank you all for being here on such a nice day. So I know that the opportunity cost is high, but I appreciate you being here.
I often hear that people are confused between what President Obama has done. They're not sure whether this means that the embargo has been lifted.
And what President Obama has done and the embargo are two different things. So the embargo is very much in place right now. But I like to provide a little bit of context that might be helpful to understand how we got to this point and how things have changed in the relationship, at least from the US side, toward Cuba.
Going back to 1917, the Trading With The Enemy Act was established. And it provides the discussion or authority to the President of the United States to regulate financial transactions, property transfers by any person in the US with another country. And this has been, in a way, the foundation for many of the policies that have been adopted since.
I should say, by the way, that there are three historical, let's say, events that I would like to highlight before I start with this. The first one is the Spanish American War in 1898. US goes to war with Spain. And this is a little bit how the history of US Cuba relations, I think for our purposes, can be better understood. So that is a little bit the first instance that is relevant for our purpose.
So in 1898, US goes to war with Spain. The following year, Cuba becomes sort of a protectorate of the US. And in 1898, US formerly occupies Cuba. In 1901, a new constitution is written based on the US Constitution. And there is what is called a Platt Amendment, which states that the US reserves the right to intervene in Cuban affairs for the preservation of so-called Cuban independence.
And then let's fast forward a bit. I mentioned in 1917, this authority, the Trading With The Enemy Act grants a precedent. In 1933, this Trading With The Enemy Act was amended to grant the president this authority, even outside of a war period, sort of claiming more broadly an emergency period.
And then in 1962, President Kennedy exercising discretionary powers of the executive office, directed the Department of Treasury to establish regulations necessary to prohibit imports into the US of all goods of Cuban origin and all goods imported through Cuba, regardless of where they were coming from. This is not the embargo the way we know it today, but it definitely set the foundation.
In 1992, the Torricelli Act-- the official name-- all of these acts have very nice names. This is the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992. And in that act, Congress established the-- it stated that the US was seeking, and I quote, a peaceful transition to democracy and resumption of economic growth in Cuba through first, the careful application of sanctions directed at the Castro government, and second, support for the Cuban people.
Now, these sanctions included limits on the remittances that could be sent to Cuba by US persons. It prohibited vessels from coming to the US. Once they had stopped in Cuba, they had to wait six months before they could come to US ports. It prohibited the Department of Treasury from issuing licenses authorizing foreign subsidiaries of US companies to engage in trade with Cuba.
In 1996, the Helms Burton Act, which is also known-- the official name is the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. This affirmed in section 201, the name of the section is Assistance to a Free and Independent Cuba. And the act affirms that the self-determination of the Cuban people is a sovereign and national right of the citizens of Cuba, which must be exercised free of interference by the government of any country.
And then subsequent sections state that the US claims the right to determine which system of governance is permissible in Cuba. Section 205, for example, stipulates that the definition for determining when Cuba would be considered to have a transitional government, this means that Cuba has to free all political prisoners, has to legalize all political activity, and make a public commitment to organizing free and fair elections.
Now in this act, even if a transitional government were to carry out all of these things I just mentioned, section 202 still seeks to limit US assistance to this new government, principally to humanitarian aid to providing things like food, medicine, emergency, energy, perhaps. And it seeks to prepare the Cuban military forces to adjust to an appropriate role in democracy, whatever that may mean.
Now, the definition of a democratic government under the section 206 stipulates some widely accepted criteria, I think most people would agree, perhaps a free and fair elections, things like respect for civil liberties, perhaps an independent subsidiary, and so forth. These are widely accepted conditions perhaps, or things that we associate with a democracy.
But part of the definition also stipulates that Cuba must be, and I quote, substantially moving toward a market oriented economic system, and should show demonstrable progress in returning to US citizens once expropriated property, or providing full compensation for this property.
Now, this is very different from what we're seeing today, right? We've seen, by the way, towards the beginning of President Obama's administration some reforms that had to do with the easing of the restrictions that were in place. Some of these restrictions were adopted during the Bush administration, that had to do with who could travel to the island and the amount that could be sent in remittances.
And some of these things were eased in 2010. Another set of reforms, another sort of set of provisions were eased as well.
But what we see now, announced in 2014 in December, what President Obama did is really a completely different thing. The re-establishing of diplomatic relations and opening an embassy in Havana, essentially upgrading this interest section in Havana, is I think-- signals a very, very drastic change.
Symbolically for the region, this is huge. I think most Latin American countries were very, very pleased by this. And I think it gives a lot of political capital to the United States.
There is a poll that I like to quote in my Latin American politics course. This was in 2006 in Argentina, people were asked what their perception was of different world leaders. And they were asked about Fidel Castro. They were asked about Lula. They were asked about President Bush. And the differences were dramatic.
So at least this was a national representative survey in Argentina in 2006. Fidel Castro was wildly popular. Lula-- so Castro had about 70 something percent of the Argentines approved, that they liked Fidel Castro. Lula had something like 50 something percent. And President Bush had something like 2%.
President Bush's approval in the US was low, but not that low. But it speaks to the disenchantment in the rest of the region, at least in the hemisphere, with what has been seen as a policy that interferes with not just what Cubans should be able to do, but also what other countries, or third parties, might want to do with Cuba. So it was seen as a policy, that the embargo that really had extraterritorial considerations that were very, very problematic for the region.
So I'm probably over. I've extended past my allotted time. But I would like to point out that regardless, even though the embargo is still in place, some of these changes are very, very meaningful for the Cuban people. And I think this has very much to do with a very different perspective of diplomacy, one that is based more on say, modernization theory, and the idea that improvement of economic conditions will make a difference in terms of bringing democracy to the island, as opposed to this punitive approach that has been unsuccessful for a long time.
TIM DEVOOGD: Thank you, Gustavo.
EDUARDO INIGO-ELIAS: Well, I think one of the things I would like to mention to all of you is for the last 14 years, the lab of Ornithology has been working from here from Cornell with four grants-- consecutive grant from the MacArthur Foundation engaging Cuba and Cornell University, teaching and training and building local capacity, not only in Havana, If you speak to, Cubans in the island of Cuba, which, by the way, is over 3,000 islands in a archipelago not only the main island of Cuba, will say that if you've only been to Havana, you don't know Cuba. You need to go out and know the different provinces and know what is happening in Cuba.
But one of the things that it was very rewarding for those 14 years working with the Cuban colleagues is that we were able to bring them here to Cornell professors and students and spend months of collaboration with many researchers and many fieldwork activities, in particularly in bird conservation.
And why bird conservation? It's because we share over 300 species and millions of birds that share the same natural resources with the island. And last week, we just had a meeting with US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, and other agencies in relation to these natural resources that we share. And Cuba continues to be the main point of interest for these resources that we share, that we hardly know.
And very few, like here, colleagues from Cornell and myself have been able to travel with Cubans. And it is partly related to the research question of how do you work in Cuba? And the only way that you work in Cuba is to have Cuban colleagues working with you in their research.
And even with that, many areas across the country are not allowed to scientists to visit. And this has more limitations since then, 2004, when it was published, the Cuba new strategy for a free Cuba by the US government with the Bush administration.
But that has changed, and the Cubans hope that in the near future, we can continue with that collaboration that we started in the past. And you know, many of us are here. But I think one of the issues that remain controversial also in this relationship, is why the panelists that was invited by team and his group is not here, is still related to issues of visa being able to travel and be here. And I would love more to hear from her, from a Cuban than we that are not native to the island of Cuba.
TIM DEVOOGD: I should clarify that she asked for her visa very, very late because she felt that she needed to get permission from her university first. And that there's always an interaction that goes back and forth, where when something happens, at least in this case, I think that the fault lies much more with her university than it does with the US consulate there.
KENNETH ROBERTS: I'll be very-- is this what turns it on? Yeah? It's on. OK. I'll be very brief, but I just wanted to say a few words about the current moment and the opportunity that we have as scholars or as students and researchers to try to take advantage of this new opening between the United States and Cuba.
Because I think what you find is that whatever the political reasons were for the break in diplomatic and economic relationships with Cuba in the past, the reality is that we all lose in many important ways from that. I mean, Cuba is a society that is not only wonderful to visit because it's interesting, but as a student, to a researcher, whether you're in the sciences or the social sciences or the humanities-- and we heard from our students a few minutes ago about some of the opportunities for scientific research that you can do in Cuba.
But let me also say for a student in the humanities, Cuba has an incredibly rich cultural and literary tradition, a musical tradition, all kinds of opportunities, of course, for language and linguistic studies. And so really, it's a loss for us when we don't have access to the cultural richness of Cuba. And so I think I would strongly encourage anyone who has an opportunity to take advantage of new programs that could be opening up. I would encourage you to do so.
Also for the social sciences, Cuba of course, is going to be going through considerable transition in the years ahead, economically, as Gustavo alluded to. The country has begun economic reforms that are opening up new opportunities for small scale private entrepreneurship. There are new forms of market competition that are just beginning to transform Cuban society.
It's not clear exactly how far this is going to go. And certainly, Cuba remains predominantly a socialist economy. But it is an economy that is adopting certain mixed features. And so it's going to be very interesting as an economic experiment, in a sense, to try to track the changes and see what kinds of implications they have for Cuban society.
And then certainly in the political sphere, Cuba's going to go through a generational change politically. There's no question about that. What the implications of that could be in terms of the larger political regime and how it relates to Cuban citizens, that's something that is still very much open, to be determined. But it's certainly going to be a process. It'll be fascinating to observe and to study, both for scholars and for students.
And so whatever particular field you may be in, I think that ultimately, we all stand to benefit by the kinds of new opportunities that are likely to emerge, to try to learn from Cuba.
TIM DEVOOGD: Thanks, Ken.
KRISTEN GRACE: If I can just make a point. Cornell has two undergraduate programs with Cuba, the one represented here, the other one also in partnership the University of Havana is for students who have advanced Spanish who are taking their courses in humanities and social sciences. So this one can take students with an intermediate or advanced level of Spanish and they can do research in one of two labs, protein science or the bioacousitcs. And the other is all four courses at the university. So it's a wonderful opportunity.
TIM DEVOOGD: Kristen Grace for you guys, Kristen Grace was just pointing out that Cornell now has two programs in Cuba, the one that you guys are part of and one for students with more advanced Spanish, which is in association with Brown and is more of an immersion into the university.
And I just want to thank those of you that are here. It's for you guys. It's a gorgeous day here, probably about the same temperature as it is in Havana, finally. And I really thank you, Lynn, for all the work that you did to make this come together, and to make the facilities of the intersection available.
I'm glad that Ian and Wesley were able to join. And on this side, I'm really happy that Robin and Walt were able to do back flips and make the video and audio work well for us. It's worked out really, really well. And thank you all.
LYNN ROCHE: [INAUDIBLE] We're glad that the storm [AUDIO OUT]. It looks like the wind is blowing blew it [AUDIO OUT] just under the weather here. Thank you to your team. And it's really been a great opportunity. I hope we're able to do a bit more things like this in the future and that Professor Isel and others, Professor Emmanuel will also be able to take the opportunity to participate.
Thank you very much. It's great. Thanks.
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Professors and policy experts were joined by two Cornell students studying abroad in Cuba (via Skype) for a roundtable discussion on diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, May 4, 2015. The discussion centered around how restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries has impacted current and future educational exchange programs.
Moderator: Timothy DeVoogd, director of the Latin American Studies Program and professor of psychology.
Speakers: Gustavo Flores-Macias, assistant professor of government; Kenneth Roberts, professor of government; Eduardo Inigo-Elias, coordinator of the Neotropical Conservation Initiative at the Lab of Ornithology; Lynn Roche, public affairs officer for the U.S. Interest Section in Havana; Wesley Schnapp '16; and Ian Pengra '16.