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AAAS and Cuban Academy of Sciences Reflect on the Future of U.S.-Cuba Scientific Cooperation

AAAS Board member Juan Ramirez Lugo
AAAS Board member Juan Ramírez Lugo moderating a session on future U.S.-Cuba scientific collaborations. Credit: AAAS

Americans and Cubans learned from success stories and brainstormed how to address shared challenges at a high-level symposium on the future of the United States-Cuba scientific cooperation in Havana from March 20-21, 2023.

The symposium was the first joint activity since AAAS and the Cuban Academy of Sciences (ACC) renewed their Memorandum of Understanding October 2022 and marked more than five years since their last joint in-person event.

“Cuba and the U.S. are neighbors that share many common obstacles yet because of politics and history have different perspectives. Now is the moment to leverage those differences and come together to find solutions to the problems that we face today and the many more that we will face tomorrow,” said Juan Ramírez Lugo, associate professor at the University of Puerto Rico and AAAS Board member, after the event.

Full delegation to Cuba
Members of AAAS-led and ACC-led delegations attending the symposium. Credit: AAAS.

Ramírez Lugo was part of the 15-person delegation led by Sudip Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, former AAAS President and Nobel Laureate Peter Agre, and AAAS Board Chair Gilda Barabino. The delegation also included representatives from U.S. federal scientific agencies, U.S.-based non-governmental organizations, and universities.

Members of both delegations were eager to interact and reflect together on what U.S.-Cuba scientific cooperation has accomplished and, most importantly, look at what it can achieve in the future to manage shared natural resources and improve the health of both populations. Additionally, attendees emphasized the need to include young scientists in future collaborations, explore ways in which third countries could be involved, and take advantage of partnerships already happening at the grassroots and local levels.

“After two days of understanding what is and dreaming of what could be, the final discussion showed that we all want to find a way to turn ideas and illusions into actions and results,” reflected Ramírez Lugo.

Setting the Scene: Overviews of U.S. and Cuban Scientific Enterprises

Gilda Barabino, president of Olin College of Engineering and chair of the AAAS Board, provided an overview of the U.S. scientific enterprise. She focused on trends in nondefense research and development (R&D) spending, particularly on the two main topics discussed during the symposium: public health and environmental issues.  

“A significant amount of research in the U.S. gets funded by private industry as well as other sources, including philanthropy,” emphasized Barabino.

Jorge Núñez Jover, professor at the University of Havana, delved into how post-revolutionary Cuba developed a governance system based on science and innovation. In particular, he talked about the role of science, technology and innovation in the 2019 Constitution and how the COVID-19 pandemic led to the strengthening of communication across government, universities and enterprises.

Addressing Environmental Challenges Together

Valerie Miller
Valerie Miller from EDF speaking on marine conservation. Credit: AAAS.

Delegation members offered updates on the status of U.S.-Cuba collaboration on environmental issues and public health. Valerie Miller, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Cuba Oceans Program, provided an overview of EDF’s work on sustainable fishing and coastal resilience in protected areas of Cuba, among other emerging collaborations.

 “EDF has been collaborating with partners in Cuba since 2000. The current collaborations have many opportunities to grow and have an even greater impact across the region, from working together to address impacts of climate change on coastal communities to developing treatments for disease,” said Miller.

Cuba’s Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya listened to presentations by Miller, CITMA representatives, and Fernando Bretos, who talked about The Ocean Foundation’s decades-long work in Cuba and the MoU they recently signed with CITMA. She praised the organizers for hosting the symposium and reiterated CITMA’s willingness to participate in subsequent events.

Working Together on Public Health

Peter Agre opened the second day with a keynote address that walked the audience through his passion for biomedical research, his breakthrough discovery of the aquaporin protein and the impact that receiving the 2003 Nobel Prize of Chemistry had on his approach to international scientific cooperation. Agre’s recounting of his research on malaria in Africa as well as his engagement with the Cuban scientific community since his tenure as AAAS President was the perfect introduction to U.S.-Cuba collaboration on communicable and non-communicable diseases – the second focus area of the symposium.

“Scientists in both the United States and Cuba are eager to share their research and to collaborate on important health challenges,” said Joyelle Kalei Dominique, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Office of Global Research, who was one of three NIAID representatives joining the AAAS-led delegation. During this session, she spoke about NIAID-supported activities with Cuba since 2016, mostly on arbovirus research and COVID-19.

Joyelle Dominique
Joyelle K. Dominique from NIAID speaking during a public health session. Credit: AAAS.

The public health sessions included presentations on tropical medicine and the connection between public health and climate change by Cristina Cassetti from NIAID and Maria Elena Bottazzi from Baylor College of Medicine. Stephen Whitehead from NIAID and M. Guadalupe Guzmán from Cuba’s Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine discussed dengue and vaccine technology. They met in 2015 when Whitehead attended an international course on dengue organized by Guzmán in Havana right after the U.S. and Cuba restored diplomatic relations, and they have stayed in contact ever since.  

“Cuban researchers are working on health challenges directly relevant to the population of the United States, including mosquito-transmitted infectious diseases, diseases of the immune system, respiratory infections, cancer and stroke, to name a few. It is important that we take the outcomes from this meeting to foster new and enhanced research collaborations between U.S. and Cuban investigators,” Dominique concluded.

As part of the concluding remarks of the symposium, Parikh said, “This symposium has increased my hope on how the American and Cuban scientific communities can work together to solve some of our shared challenges. But I am a practical optimist, which means you need more than hope and optimism –you need a plan. I am encouraged that this symposium may be a starting foundation for that plan.”


In March 2023, AAAS posted a thread on Twitter with additional photos from the two-day symposium.