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Diplomacy with Cuba Sees New Scientific Partnerships

The re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States earlier this year has already yielded scientific collaboration that will benefit both countries, according to the Cuban Ambassador to the United States and a host of other experts on Cuban diplomacy and scientific efforts.

The panel "Science Diplomacy With Cuba: Advances and Opportunities," convened 1 December at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C, was organized and hosted by the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships' Science Diplomacy Affinity Group.

"What we can accomplish in science is endless," said Cuban Ambassador to the United States José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, who in September was the first named to the role in more than 50 years. "We understand the concept of science diplomacy, but we have to go further and support science for the benefit of our peoples," Cabañas said.

Since Cuba and the United States re-established diplomatic relations in July, the countries have signed two arrangements related to environmental protection, according to panelist Tim Wiley, the lead officer for science and technology matters at the U.S. State Department's Office of Cuban Affairs.

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Frances Colón, José Ramón Cabañas Rodríguez, and Cristina Rabadán-Diehl | AAAS/ Andrea Korte

The first agreement, signed on 18 November in Havana, established a sister relationship between marine sanctuaries in the United States and Cuba . On 24 November, the two countries signed a joint statement on environmental protection that will facilitate and guide U.S.-Cuba cooperation — both governmental and non-governmental — on issues including coastal and marine protection, the protection of biodiversity including endangered and threatened species, climate change, disaster risk reduction, and marine pollution, Wiley said.

The panelists emphasized the interconnectedness of the countries' ecosystems, separated by less than 100 miles of sea and situated among ocean currents that Wiley called "a veritable conveyor belt of marine life."

"We can't protect our own ecosystem if we're not protecting Cuba's," said Fernando Bretos Trelles, director of the Ocean Foundation's Cuba Marine Research Conservation Project, which has facilitated collaborative research between U.S. institutions and the University of Havana and the Cuban Ministry of Science Technology and Environment since 1998.

Warming relations between Cuba and the United States have also opened the doors to greater scientific exchange in the field of health and medicine, panelists said.

In September, Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York and Cuba's Center for Molecular Immunology announced that they would partner to test a cancer vaccine, said Cristina Rabadán-Diehl, director of the Office of the Americas in the Office of Global Affairs, Office of the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Cancer is the second most common cause of death among Cuba's aging population as well as in the United States, she said.

"We speak the universal language of health and science," Rabadán-Diehl said of the two nations.

The panelist noted that collaboration will not help only Cuba and the United States. Advances in health and medicine in particular can be shared globally, Rabadán-Diehl said.

"Diseases know no borders," she said.

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Co-moderator Irina Pala, Tim Wiley, and Frances Colón | AAAS/ Andrea Korte

While the United States' new approach to Cuba is designed to empower the Cuban people and support the emergence of a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Cuba, Wiley said, panelists said that scientific collaboration will also enable the United States — and the rest of the world — to learn and benefit from Cuba's areas of expertise.

Rabadán-Diehl cited Cuba's low infant mortality rate, and Bretos called out the progressive, science-based legislative steps Cuba has taken to protect the environment.

"If the science is good, it drives the policy," Bretos said of Cuba.

The re-establishment of diplomatic relations is "an opportunity to do more fantastic science together," said Deputy Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State Frances Colón.

Last year, prior to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, AAAS and the Cuban Academy of Sciences signed an agreement outlining a plan to advance scientific cooperation between U.S. and Cuban scientists in areas of mutual interest to the countries.

This month, members of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy will travel with a delegation to the Cuban Neuroscience Center to help establish ties between neuroscience labs in the U.S. and Cuba.

However, "scientific conversations must be echoed with diplomatic conversations," Rabadán-Diehl.

Panelists also urged young scientists to engage in scientific collaboration between Cuba and the United States.

"There's space for all of you to get involved," Colón said.

Author

Andrea Korte