US-Cuban Scientific Collaborations Jeopardized By Travel Restrictions

March 30, 1998

WASHINGTON, DC -- Strained US-Cuban relations and inconsistently-applied travel restrictions are hampering scientific exchanges between the US and Cuba, according to a new report released today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The report, The Effect of Travel Restrictions on Scientific Collaboration Between the United States and Cuban Scientists, calls for the US to ease restrictions on scientists traveling to Cuba and to use consistent criteria when granting or denying visas. The report will be presented at an April 3rd AAAS meeting with US and Cuban government officials, experts on US-Cuba relations, and scientists who will discuss the impact of the restrictions and develop strategies to address the problem.

To address the US policies, the report recommends that licensing requirements be lifted for US scientists traveling to Cuba. Until that occurs, the report calls for a qualified body of scientists to review the legitimacy of requests and an appeals process be created for denials. Denials, the report urges, should be based on clear, consistent, and stated policies. For Cuba, the report recommends that all scientists be allowed to travel, and that decision-making authority be removed from "political party mechanisms where they are likely to be subjected to non-academic criteria."

"Science today knows no borders," said Audrey Chapman, director of the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, which published the report. "Scientific progress is being undermined by regulations that are arbitrarily applied that deny researchers the opportunity to share knowledge and resources. The right of scientists to travel is one of the most important ways of furthering that exchange. We need to find solutions to this problem and remove scientific research from the grip of political hostilities."

The report is based on the results of a 1997 AAAS mission to Cuba in which 25 Cuban scientists in Havana were interviewed about their experiences in obtaining entry visas to the US to conduct legitimate scientific work. Problems cited by the Cuban scientists include extreme delay in receiving approval, lack of response and/or no explanation for denial, and approval for entry at the "last minute" or after the date of the requested time of travel, causing scientists to miss important US or international meetings.

The report states that according to anecdotal evidence collected by the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program, younger Cuban scientists appear to be more likely to be refused entry in the US due to the suspicion that they will immigrate. The report states that in the past year, these scientists have had to submit their applications through the Cuban Foreign Ministry, rather than directly to the US Interests Section.

As with any communist regime, all scientists in Cuba are considered government employees. The Cuban scientists who were denied entry into the US fell into three general categories: high-level government officials, mid-level managers, and researchers and professors at universities. They were generally denied visas when requesting entrance into the US to attend national or international meetings, to accept scholarships, or to participate in long-term research and exchange programs in the US.

Since 1951, the AAAS Science and Human Rights Program has been at the forefront of the struggle to assure the free passage of scientists. In 1994, Chapman submitted testimony before Congress that the US travel policy to Cuba negatively affects US scientists and scientific progress. The 1996 AAAS report, The Right to Travel: An Essential Freedom for Scientists and Academics, found that US travel policy towards Cuba impedes scientific research. AAAS has spearheaded a number of letter-writing campaigns on behalf of international scientists and students who have been denied travel across borders or have otherwise been persecuted.

The Association is the world's largest federation of scientists with more than 143,000 members and nearly 300 affiliated scientific and engineering societies. It conducts a variety of programs in science policy, science education and career development, and international scientific cooperation. AAAS publishes the weekly peer-reviewed journal Science and administers EurekAlert! [www.eurekalert.org], the online news service featuring discoveries in science, medicine, and technology.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: To R.S.V.P. for the April 3 meeting, or to receive a copy of the report, please contact Dave Amber at 202-326-6434 or send an email to damber@aaas.org.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

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