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Science Diplomacy Visit to Cuba Produces Historic Agreement

Kathy Wren

Portside

Apr 30, 2014

Excerpts: The discussions that began at the Cuban Academy of Sciences would give rise to a landmark agreement two days later. Signed by the leaders of the Academy and AAAS, a memorandum of understanding now outlines a plan to advance scientific cooperation by Cuban and U.S. scientists, in key areas of mutual interest to both countries.

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The obstacles to scientific collaboration are formidable, however. The Cuban economy, which crashed after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is still faltering despite modest economic reforms in recent years. The U.S. embargo blocks federal research funding from reaching Cuban scientists. And, while non-governmental U.S. scientists are permitted to travel to Cuba to conduct research under the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control's general license, they must apply for a specific license to attend or organize most conferences there.

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Cubans are well positioned to detect emerging infectious diseases of concern to the United States, such as dengue and chikungunya, serious mosquito-borne viral diseases for which no vaccines exist. Hospital leaders told the U.S. group that Cuba has already implemented surveillance measures for chikungunya, which has just turned up in the Caribbean in recent months. The virus is spreading rapidly in the region, raising fears among U.S. public health experts that it may soon make an appearance in the States.