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Scientific and Environmental Communities Support Changes in Cuba Policy

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December 17, 2014

Dear Mr. President:

As members of organizations and institutions that engage in international research and cooperation on scientific, environmental, academic, and medical matters, we are writing to you to urge you to take steps that would remove the obstacles to research and cooperation with Cuba. Specifically, we call on you to provide general licenses for all legally permitted travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba, including people-to-people travel. This would be a critical step toward opening cooperation between scientists and researchers on a host of issues of importance to the United States.

Mr. President, you have extensive authority to modify aspects of the U.S. embargo on Cuba. While only Congress can end all regulation of trade, travel, or investment, you can, through the exercise of your Executive powers, make substantial changes to the travel restrictions and related limitations now in effect. You can amend the regulations governing the 12 existing lawful categories of travel, up to and including issuing general licenses for travel in these categories. You can reduce or eliminate restrictions on financial transactions connected to legal travel. In effect, you can allow increased collaboration between U.S. and Cuban medical and research teams on a range of important issues –like public health, the marine environment, conservation, tropical disease research, etc. We urge you to take action that would remove obstacles to cooperation.

The U.S. embargo on Cuba presents numerous difficulties to cooperation among scientists, researchers and specialists in the United States and Cuba. You have called publicly for an “update” to our Cuba policy overall, which we endorse. We urge you to consider major changes in the policy, and we write to you to ensure that those changes include measures to permit enhanced scientific, environmental, academic , and medical cooperation. These are areas where we have things to offer and to learn from Cuba, areas where cooperation and mutual benefit ought to trump political differences.

In particular, we urge you to issue general licenses for travel to Cuba that would allow for unrestricted  scientific, academic, and educational cooperation. In recent years, the expansion of travel to Cuba through more general licensing for student travel, and for research, and through the use of specific licenses for academic and scientific collaborations and conferences, has enabled us to initiate important and positive collaboration. But we believe that now is the time to move to unrestricted general licenses. The uncertainly, delay and expense of applying for specific licenses, together with bureaucratic problems in the administration of a specific licensing regime, can cripple initiatives and reduce to a relative trickle what was meant to be a broad, open channel for new activity.

As part of a broader effort to increase travel and exchange between our two countries, we urge you to consider the following measures, which would simplify and expand research and collaboration:

Provide that the general license for professional research apply to all professionals conducting research in their field;

Provide a general license that would permit U.S. not-for-profit organizations to conduct not-for-credit educational travel. Such a general license would allow non-profits, research institutions, and universities to bring scholars and researchers to Cuba to learn about the state of Cuban research and the possibilities for collaboration;

Provide a general license to permit U.S. academic institutions or other non-profits to sponsor or co-sponsor academic seminars, conferences and workshops in Cuba;

Provide a general license authorizing U.S. professionals to attend conferences, seminars, workshops or other professional meetings in Cuba whether sponsored by Cuban, U.S. or third country institutions;

Provide a general license authorizing U.S. academic, medical and research institutions to travel to Cuba to engage in collaborative research with Cuban institutions, scientists, and physicians, including research related to public health and to the development and trial of medicines and medical treatments;
 
Provide a general license authorizing U.S. doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals to lecture, teach and perform surgery at Cuban hospitals and public health facilities;

Allow grant funds from U.S. Government sources (NIH, NSF, DOD, DOE,  etc.) to be used in support of scientists traveling to conduct research or attend conferences;
 
Simplify the process for U.S. Government scientists to attend conferences and do research in Cuba;
 
Provide a general license for travel for persons engaged in humanitarian projects in, or related to, Cuba, including environmental projects, community-based grassroots projects, projects related to agriculture and rural development, and other;

Provide a general license authorizing U.S. academic institutions, foundations, and non-for-profit organizations to provide financial support for Cubans to travel to third countries for conferences. This would facilitate collaboration and exchange;

Eliminate financial restrictions related to these categories of travel;

Simplify the visa review process for Cuban professionals invited to participate in research, conference or workshops in the United States.

Mr. President, these steps would greatly enhance scientific, environmental, medical, and other forms of research and collaboration between specialists in the United States and in Cuba. It is in our interest to expand such collaborations. We urge you, as part of a broad package of reforms in our approach to Cuba, to include these measures.

Sincerely,  

Carol M. Browner
EPA Administrator, 1993-2001

Dr. Peter C. Agre
2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Director, Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
Professor, School of Medicine
Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology

Martin Arostegui
Trustee, International Game Fish Association

Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Executive Director
American Public Health Association (APHA)

Dr. Peter Bourne
Chair of the Board
Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC)

Dr. Martin Chalfie
2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
William R. Kenan Jr. Professor
Biological Sciences, Columbia University

Ramsey Clark
Former United States Attorney General

John Hemingway
Author

Patrick Hemingway
Photographer

Robert E. Hueter, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist & Associate Vice President for Research
Mote Marine Laboratory

Rob Kramer, President
International Game Fish Association

Pierre M. LaRamée, Executive Director
Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC)

Dr. Mark M. Rasenick
Distinguished University Professor of Physiology & Biophysics and Psychiatry
Director, Biomedical Neuroscience Training Program
Research Service, Jesse Brown VAMC
U. Illinois Chicago College of Medicine

Gail Reed, MEDICC Research Director
Executive Editor, MEDICC Review
Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC)

Bob Schwartz, Executive Director
Disarm Education Fund

Mitchell J. Valdes-Sosa, MD. Ph.D.
General Director Cuban Neuroscience Center
Member Cuban Academy of Sciences
Honorary Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago (appointed 2006)

Pedro A. Valdes-Sosa MD, Ph.D., D.Sc.
General Vice-Director for Research Cuban Neuroscience Center
Member Cuban Academy of Sciences
Invited Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago (1997)

Daniel Whittle
Senior Attorney and Director, Cuba Program
Environmental Defense Fund