Team of researchers marks ASU's first visit to the island nation with scientific cooperation, relationship building and mutual respect
President Barack Obama arrived Sunday afternoon in Cuba, the first visit of a sitting American presidentPresident Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president, took his first foreign trip in office to Cuba in January of 1928. Unlike President Obama, who took Air Force One, Coolidge arrived on a battleship. to that country in 88 years.
It's an historic trip, occasioned by Obama's major recalibration of American foreign policy toward the Communist island that sits a mere 90 miles from Florida. While there, the president will speak with Cuban President Raul Castro, with business leaders and political dissidents, and he'll take in an exhibition baseball game between Cuba's national team and Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays.
Though restoring U.S.-Cuba diplomatic ties after decades of tension could be a rocky road, there are a number of positive signs. A team from ASU got to see some first hand.
A 12-person group of Arizona State University researchers spent six days in Cuba in early March, building relationships, demonstrating the university’s strengths in areas Cuban institutions are interested in, and showing ASU’s dedication to developing and sharing knowledge.
“It was very positive, very optimistic,” said Marga Gual Soler, who led the trip. “In only a year, I’ve seen so much advance in scientific relations between Cuba and the U.S. ... They are hopeful and inspired by the reopening of diplomatic relations.”
Unlike North Korea, Cuba is not isolated from the entire globe, said Mikhail Chester. Chinese cars on the street and Chinese consumer goods were testament to that.
“Cuba is not disconnected from the world,” said Chester, senior sustainability scientistMikhail Chester is also an assistant professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “It’s disconnected from the U.S.”
Delegates weren’t sure how they’d be received or how much progress they would make. Was it going to be a closed-doors situation?
“I wasn’t sure about speaking to different representatives to how open they would be to collaborate or not,” said David Iwaniec, assistant research professor in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. “The most unexpected thing for me was how open it was, how eager they were to share the type of work they’re doing. What they’re doing, and even starting to learn the needs they have.”