Thursday, October 19, 2017

Following controversy UM postpones event but the drive for engagement with the Castro regime continues.

UM's drive to engage with the Castro dictatorship continues.

The University of Miami has been under a cloud of controversy following the announcement that the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS) would be closed, then back tracked that it would remain open, with a new director. Furthermore that the founding director Professor Jaime Suchlicki had not retired but resigned in protest over the direction Cuba Studies was taking under the new UM President Julio Frenk.

As the weeks went by the claims made by Professor Suchlicki's about the University of Miami going in a different direction that requires placating the dictatorship in Cuba became more evident. The University of Miami has now produced a special report titled "Cuba and the Caribbean" that has a clear editorial line, including a slanted poll that makes little or no mention of human rights or dissidents.

Screen grab from A University of Miami Special Report

ICCAS had a track record of serious scholarship that debunked Castro regime propaganda and opened its doors to Cuban dissidents from the island. This included important studies and books on the nature of health care and education in Cuba that no doubt irritated the Cuban dictatorship. The shuttering of ICCAS and replacement of the entire faculty of the the institute is troubling and an assault on academic freedom, but makes sense if the priority is having a relationship with the communist regime in Cuba that does not tolerate critical academic inquiry. Dr. Suchlicki resigned from the University of Miami but continues his highly respected academic inquiry into Cuba at the new Cuban Studies Institute, along with Jose Azel and Pedro Roig, who were also forced out of ICCAS despite their academic credentials and numerous publications. Dr. Jose Azel had been the Senior Research Associate and Pedro Roig, the Senior Consultant at ICCAS.

One would hope that a university would challenge communist propaganda in an academic setting with an exchange of differing views with the goal of getting at the existing reality. Unfortunately what had been planned at the Department of Public Health Science at the University of Miami was a one sided presentation by Professor Roberto C. Villafranca, MD, MS, PhD of the University of Medical Sciences in Matanzas, Cuba. The flier reproduced below is an uncritical repetition of Castro government propaganda. There is plenty of evidence that the Cuban Public Health System has serious problems that are not reported in the official statistics provided.

Roberto Cañete Villafranca is a visiting scholar at the University of Miami
Katherine Hirschfeld, an anthropologist, in Health, Politics, and Revolution in Cuba Since 1898 who spent time in Cuba studying its healthcare system, contracted dengue while there, experiencing first hand the 'discrepancies between rhetoric and reality,' She found a repressive, bureaucratized and secretive system, long on 'militarization' and short on patients' rights.  Professor Hirschfeld had spoken at the old ICCAS.  One wonders if she would be invited to speak at the new ICCAS?

Professor Sherri L. Porcelain who has taught Global Public Health in World Affairs at the University of Miami for more than 30 years wrote an important analysis titled U.S. & Cuba: A Question of Indifference? I could not find this article on the ICCAS web site but found it instead at Professor Suchlicki's Cuba Studies Institute and what it reveals is disturbing.
"Investment in the health of people includes protecting human rights. This means allowing the health community to speak out and not to be jailed for releasing information about a dengue epidemic considered a state secret, or not sharing timely data on a cholera outbreak until laboratory confirmation of travelers returning from Cuba arrive home with a surprising diagnosis. This causes me to reflect upon my personal interviews where the remaining vigor of public health actions in Cuba exists to fight vector and water borne diseases. Sadly, however, health professionals are directed to euphemistically use the vague terms of febrile illness in place of dengue and gastrointestinal upset for cholera, in contradiction to promoting public health transparency."

 This led to cries that the agreement reached with Julio Frenk that the University of Miami did not want to set up academic exchanges that would legitimize the Castro dictatorship was not being fulfilled. On October 17, 2017 after requesting the day before what steps would be needed to attend the event on the 18th the following message was received from one of the organizers of the event:
"Thank you for your interest in attending the Department of Public Health Sciences’ Grand Rounds on the Cuban Public Health System. As you might have heard, this event has been postponed till further notice. It was decided that for this topic, a different structure that incorporates presenters with different viewpoints on public health in Cuba will be more beneficial. We will announce through our usual channels once another date and time has been decided."
Meanwhile reviewing the section on Politics and Policy finds the "party line" of the new Administration being repeated in the article "A Renewed Tenuous Relationship" with statements such as Michael Touchton, a UM political science assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences: “[t]here is so much superior work that could be done if we team up with Cuban academics,” he says. “They don’t have the resources, but by combining our expertise we can do excellent work.” It is repeated once again by Lillian Manzor, associate professor and department chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at the College of Arts and Sciences who said: "I think the establishment of relations is long overdue,” she says. “Engagement with other countries has proven to be better than isolationist tactics.”

Equally disturbing is the article "A Trusted Ally for Leftists" on the negotiations between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas in Cuba. The article fails to even mention the explosion in cocaine production during these negotiations and makes the charge that the vote by Colombians to reject the peace agreement was based on "partial lies and misinformation" and "post-truth." Colombian voters understand that the FARC will use drug money to finance its entry into Colombian politics and attempt a Venezuelan style take over over the span of a few election cycles. This point of view is not reflected in this "special report" because dissenting points of view were purged from ICCAS back in August of 2017 and replaced by an Interim Director willing to adopt the new line from the University President that echoes those already mentioned above and are now found on the Institute's new website.

ICCAS, under Dr. Suchlicki, produced serious scholarship that not only embarrassed the Castro regime by debunking its propaganda but was also a challenge to other academic centers that study Cuba and are compromised by their need to satisfy the Castro regime's demands to be able to continue to have access to the island. Professor Suchlicki is the co-editor of the tenth edition of Cuban Communism. Reviewers of the 901 page tome say that it "has widely come to be known as 'the Bible of Cuban Studies.'" The distinguished periodical Foreign Affairs said of it: "There is no handier guide to the Castro regime and the debates swirling around it."

 Mike Gonzalez, currently a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation think tank, has written an important analysis of how foreign governments influence what Americans learn in college. The term "influence" is an understatement. He outlines how China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Cuba have successfully censored and propagandized what is taught at American colleges and universities.  The section of the article on Cuba described what is now taking place at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies:

Long a thorn in the side of the communist dictatorship in Havana, ICCAS has constantly received vituperative attacks by the regime’s propaganda outlets. Never before, however, has it come under the threat of the university’s own leadership. Frenk is a long-standing and well-known admirer of the Cuban regime’s health practices. As Mexico’s health secretary in 2001, he said Cuba had the best health indicators in Latin America, and Mexico would benefit from learning about Cuba’s success.
Unfortunately for Frenk, the ICCAS kept saying the truth about Cuba’s failed health system, as it did on July 20 in a report called “Cuba’s Silence is Dangerous to Your Health.” That report notes that “After a century hiatus, cholera, malaria and dengue have returned to Cuba.” I post the report here because it seems to have disappeared from the ICCAS website.
 Let me be clear. Believing in academic freedom I have no problem with Cuban "academics" speaking at the University of Miami or any other college. The word academics are in quotation marks because in a totalitarian communist dictatorship there is no academic freedom and academics are constrained by the demands of the dictatorship in what they can say and write and that needs to be taken into account.

However I do have a problem when dissenting voices are silenced or purged to satisfy the demands of a dictatorship for the sake of access or funding.  Incorporating presenters with different viewpoints in an academic setting to debunk propaganda and get to the facts is a positive step. Unfortunately, American academia seems to have been corrupted and the University of Miami that it in the past with ICCAS had been an oasis of academic excellence is eager to join the desert of accommodation with tyrants repeating the same lies in order to have a relationship with a totalitarian dictatorship. One can call that many things, but academic scholarship is not one of them.

Meanwhile I salute Professor Jaime Suchlicki for his truth telling and look forward to continue reading the work of the Cuban Studies Institute. I look forward to seeing who is finally selected as the new permanent director of the Institute of Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami and pray that he can fill the chasm left by Dr. Suchlicki.

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