Thursday, October 19, 2017

Human rights and academic freedom under the new regime at the University of Miami's Cuba programs

Worse than it first appears

Taking a closer look at the special report titled "Cuba and the Caribbean" prepared by UM News, a part of University Communications at the University of Miami and some observations arise that undermine the claims made by UM political science assistant professor Michael Touchton that there is "so much superior work that could be done if we team up with Cuban academics." Without academic freedom and the knowledge that careers can end and doors can be closed by raising certain issue, central to them are human rights and civil liberties in the area of political science scholarship is effectively neutered. Now associate professor and department chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Lillian Manzor, is right when she says that “engagement with other countries has proven to be better than isolationist tactics,” but Cuba like North Korea is not just "another country."

This can be seen in the UM special report itself where there are no references by UM faculty to human rights with regards to Cuba and the only Cubans in prison talked about are innocent migrants in U.S. prisons.  . Miami Law’s Immigration Clinic Director Rebecca Sharpless and Professor David Abraham address the changes to migration within the narrative of  normalized relations and putting the Cold War past behind us.
Rebecca Sharpless: We are seeing Cuban immigrants detained in county jails for the first time ever—Cubans with no criminal history who would be eligible for the Cuban Adjustment Act. I think the new normal is that Cubans and non-Cubans will be treated the same way, which is not well, even with respect to people fleeing persecution or extreme poverty.

David Abraham: The future of Cuban-American relations, particularly regarding immigration, seems very much up in the air. The longtime special quality of Cuban migration, hung on anti-Communism, is behind us. The Cuban Adjustment Act is behind us. Just as Cuba becomes an ordinary foreign country, the entire immigration regime in the U.S. is in question, and we may be operating in an entirely new environment.
For the past 50 years, we've been operating like the Cubans get a free pass because any Cuban who touches American soil was a year away from permanent residency unless they committed a felony, whereas every Haitian was headed to detention and deportation. One was fleeing a failed state and a bad economy, and the other was a victim of a Communist monster. I find it ironic that they are now simply in the same lousy situation.
First, I found it interesting that no mention was made of President Obama gutting the Cuban Adjustment Act or the fact that the "Communist monster" continues to destroy lives and murder Cubans on the island for thinking differently in the article "On the Frontlines of Immigration." The only direct reference made to human rights referred to Haiti but none concerning Cuba.

Second and more disturbing are the comments by Kenneth W. Goodman, professor and director of the UM Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, and co-director of the University of Miami Ethics Programs. He claims that Cuba is changing in a positive direction. In the article "A Hemispheric Approach to Bioethics and Health Policy" the claim is made that  "[w]hile Cuban scholars do not yet enjoy academic freedom of speech or press, that is reported to be changing, he added, noting that Cuban scientists and clinicians want to be “participants on the global stage.” In keeping with that objective, Cuba’s researchers appear to follow international standards of informed consent and patient privacy when conducting clinical studies." Professor Goodman should talk with Felix Llerena who visited the University of Miami to take part in a human rights workshop and was expelled from his university when he returned to Cuba earlier this year. There have been others. Professors have also been fired for their political beliefs or merely having a dissident in the family.

Many other universities have academic exchanges with Cuba and self censorship is part of the game of continuing the programs running and scholarship suffers. This practice of self-censorship to maintain access has been seen and reported on explicitly with regards to foreign journalists based in Cuba

The only bright spot in this dreary affair is the interview with Yoani Sanchez that addresses some of the realities on the ground in Cuba. One can agree or disagree with her policy prescription, but her journalism is spot on.

With regards to healthcare in Cuba one should review the case of Sirley Avila Leon carefully that shines a light on what happens when the dictatorship tells doctors not to treat gravely injured patients.

On the subject of academic exchanges the University of Miami would do well to study what happened to Florida International University's academic exchange program when Carlos Alvarez, one of the leaders of that initiative was arrested by the FBI, along with his wife, for being a spy.

Cuba is a unique country in the Western Hemisphere because for the past 58 years it has had more in common with far away North Korea than its neighbors. It is a communist, totalitarian dictatorship with a very dark past and it continues to write new chapters in a terrible history that those engaging with the regime will refuse to do out of a fear of losing access and having their programs shut down. Hence why human rights, academic freedom and labor rights are at the margins, if mentioned at all. Sadly this special report by the University of Miami confirms it.

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