On a bright afternoon in historic Old Havana, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Cuban Academy of Sciences signed an updated Memorandum of Understanding that lays out a path for cooperation on scientific issues of mutual interest.
A delegation co-led by Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of the Science family of journals, and Gilda Barabino, AAAS president and president of Olin College of Engineering, traveled to Cuba in late October 2022. Kim Montgomery, director of international affairs and science diplomacy, and Estefania Ortiz Calva, senior program associate in international affairs and science diplomacy, were also part of the AAAS delegation.
The new memorandum builds upon the joint collaboration established when both organizations signed their first MoU in 2014. Between 2015 and 2017, AAAS – via the Center for Science Diplomacy – and the Cuban Academy co-organized three symposia on neurosciences, cancer immunotherapy and mosquito-borne illnesses that convened Cuban and American scientific experts in Havana. Moving forward, both organizations aim to further scientific cooperation on issues such as environmental conservation, ocean and marine studies, health, public policy on science and other issues of mutual interest.
One of the pillars of the Center for Science Diplomacy is to demonstrate how science can build bridges between societies where official relationships may be strained or severed. The Center’s connection to the Cuban scientific community has been crucial to its efforts to facilitate engagements in challenging geopolitical circumstances, even before the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 2015. For neighbors with a shared maritime border and a complex history, joint scientific collaboration is more important than ever to address shared challenges, from how to effectively achieve an energy transition to swift responses to natural disasters.
Prior to the signing of the MoU, Parikh and Luis Velázquez Pérez, president of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, provided an overview of the history, goals and previous collaborations between the organizations.
“There are deep connections between AAAS and the Cuban Academy,” said Parikh during his presentation, where he highlighted Marquiza Sablón – a Cuban neuroscientist and a participant in the AAAS Cuban Biomedical Fellows program who studied at Washington University in St. Louis. He also stressed the value of the scientific community working across borders to solve shared challenges.
“To achieve scientific goals like developing new ways of doing physics or landing on Mars, we will need the brainpower of people from Cuba, the United States and everywhere around the world,” said Parikh.
During his presentation, Velázquez Pérez delved into the Cuban Academy’s history and functions: its consultative role, providing advice to the Cuban government on scientific matters, and leading scientific research by recognizing high-level scientists from Cuba. The Academy aims to address many of the challenges that Cuba is currently facing, from demographic changes to energy sustainability, by supporting the best science in Cuba and furthering scientific collaboration with international partners, including AAAS.
The memorandum was signed at the Palace of the Captains General, the former official residence of governors during Spain’s rule of Cuba. Currently, this historic building serves as museum of the city of Havana.
While in Havana, the AAAS delegation had the opportunity to interact with members of the Cuban Academy’s leadership, members of the Cuban Academy of Sciences young affiliates and other Cuban scientific leaders. Additionally, they visited the Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, and Montgomery and Ortiz Calva visited the Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation for Nature and Men, a nongovernmental organization working to connect society with the environment.
This was the first AAAS visit to the island since 2018, and the first time Parikh, Barabino, Montgomery and Ortiz Calva visited Cuba. The delegation members were impressed by the warm reception of the Cuban people and look forward to continuing to engage with Cuba’s scientific community.
“AAAS is uniquely positioned to lead the scientific community and through its relationships, like with the Cuban Academy of Sciences, connect it to the broader community to make a societal impact and ensure that science serves as a global public good,” said Barabino.
The AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy is working on future activities in Cuba and is grateful for the support provided by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, which makes these activities possible.