The 40-year political roller coaster ride characterizing official relations between the United States and Cuba may be leveling out.
Recent events, most notably Cuba’s admittance into the World Trade Organization, indicate that times may be changing on the Communist-led island that is both our neighbor and a stranger.
Cuba today is eager to initiate American business partnerships, especially in one of its more accomplished areas , biotechnology. Its Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology has recently received visits from major biotech companies such as Monsanto and SmithKline Beecham, and is in the process of receiving authorization from the World Health Organization.
Thanks to San Diego’s leadership in the biotech industry and a new educational exchange program pioneered by SDSU, our community stands poised among the first U.S. regions likely to benefit from the current political and economic warming trend in Cuba.
Should trade resume between Cuba and the United States, Cubans will no doubt rush to sell us the products of their promising medical and biotech industries. Their hope is that innovations, such as new hepatitis drugs, surgical glue and artificial skin, will replace sugar as their major export and expand their role in the global economic market.
But Cuba has little knowledge about FDA regulations or product marketing, areas where San Diego is particularly strong.
– Potential For
As home to the nation’s third-largest concentration of biotech firms, San Diego is an obvious potential partner for medical and pharmaceutical alliances with Cuban counterparts.
SDSU is capitalizing on Cuba’s changing economic environment by pioneering our nation’s first comprehensive educational exchange program, partnering with Cuba’s largest university, the University of Havana. More than a dozen U.S. universities have sent students to Cuba since a 1995 agreement between the two countries allowed exchange programs; however, those programs lasted only a few weeks. SDSU’s exchange program, administered through our Center for International Business and Education Research, will be much more intensive, permitting students to study Cuban culture, language and business practices for an entire semester or even a full year.
SDSU plans to initiate the exchange program by sending the first two students to Cuba this fall, increasing that number by spring 2001. University of Havana students may in turn come to SDSU as early as fall 2001.
– Building Bridges
In Biotech Industry
This integration of San Diego students into Cuban life will also help build bridges between our biotech industry and theirs, opening doors for biomed professionals who have long wanted to travel to Cuba but were prohibited by U.S. restrictions.
Now these industry experts will be able to visit Cuba for purposes of academic research as an extension of SDSU’s exchange program. Representatives of the Center for International Business and Education Research are also finalizing plans for the Conference on Globalization and Public Administration, co-sponsored by the University of Havana and its International Institute for Economics.
The conference is tentatively scheduled to be held in Havana this May.
The first group of biotech experts, both local and international, plans to travel to Cuba this spring under the direction of Stephen Dahms, SDSU professor of chemistry and executive director of CSUPERB, the biotechnology program of the California state university system.
This group will evaluate Cuba’s current research production capacities, as well as capabilities to generate new potential biotechnology products.
Because Cuba has devoted many resources to its education system, Cubans have the necessary intellectual capital U.S. biotech experts need in order to exchange methods and strategies.
– Several Biotech
Possible linkages with San Diego’s biotech community include shared research; development of medicines and medical technologies; and marketing or even testing of American-made products within Cuba.
Cuba today is experiencing social, political and economic changes not seen for more than four decades. It makes good sense to begin building relationships with our Cuban neighbors sooner rather than later.
If the long-standing economic blockade between Cuba and the United States ends, San Diego businesses and universities must be proactive in developing working relationships; otherwise we’ll find ourselves at the back of the line, scrambling to catch up.
Weber is the president of SDSU. Weber recently traveled to Cuba with other SDSU officials for the signing agreement finalizing the exchange program between SDSU and the University of Havana.