Cubans Talk Here About Environment Phil Sneiderman --------------------------------------- Homewood News and Information Environmental experts from Hopkins and the University of Havana last week explored issues affecting both nations, including pollution in the seas that separate the two nations. The two-day workshop opened Thursday at Evergreen House. Scholars from both schools talked about how each institution is training the next generation of scientists. They also explained how each nation is trying to update laws that protect the environment, while grappling with complaints that such laws stall economic growth. During Thursday's session, the scholars talked about ways the two nations, separated by a trade embargo and a language barrier, can work together to reduce toxic dumping in the seas south of Florida. Blanca Morejon, who teaches demographics at the University of Havana, said environmental problems do not stop at one nation's border. "We swim in the same waters," she said. "The air, especially in the southern United States, is shared between the two countries." Morejon, who is also a deputy in Cuba's National Assembly, had arrived in the United States earlier in the week with six colleagues from the university and two representatives of the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment. Prior to the conference, the visitors toured Washington, D.C., the National Aquarium in Baltimore and Hopkins' Homewood campus. About 20 faculty members from Hopkins and other Baltimore area campuses opened the conference by describing their environmental research. To overcome the language barrier, two interpreters provided immediate Spanish and English translations, which were transmitted into earphones worn by all participants. After introducing themselves, the Cuban professors described the tough standards they set for students, despite shortages of textbooks and paper. Hopkins faculty members offered to help by providing surplus textbooks to their Cuban counterparts. Grateful for the offer, the visitors from Havana said they also hoped the conference would give them a chance to enlighten professors at Hopkins about recent political and educational developments in Cuba. "It's been useful, both socially and scientifically," Morejon said during a break in the meeting. "Outside of Cuba there is a lot of misinformation about the type of social transformation that is happening in Cuba, and about the quality of professionals there. There are many difficulties, and we lack many things, but those who graduate from our university are true professionals." The University of Havana may have limited resources, but its faculty members had plenty of valuable information to share, said Charles ReVelle, a professor in the Hopkins Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering, who helped organize the conference. ReVelle said he was pleased to hear about the rigorous science courses that must be taken by Cuban geography majors. Such science requirements are tougher than those at some U.S. universities, ReVelle said, and Cubans must study for five years to earn the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. ReVelle said he expected to learn a lot from his meetings with the Cubans. "We can learn about their educational system, about their environmental research and ideas, and about their natural resources," he said. "We can learn about their accomplishments and their needs and how we can be of assistance." Academically, the environmental conference broke fresh ground, but the ties between Hopkins and the University of Havana are nearly two decades old. The conference was set up through the Johns Hopkins Cuba Exchange Program, launched in 1978 by Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies and the University of Havana. The program allows scholars to lecture and conduct research at one another's institutions. It also arranges conferences that bring together scholars and public figures from both nations to discuss issues of mutual interest. In addition, the program has offered courses on Cuba and U.S-Cuban relations at Homewood and SAIS. The first group of SAIS students who visited Cuba in 1979 met with Wayne S. Smith, who was then chief of mission at the United States Interests Section in Havana. After leaving the Foreign Service, Smith became director of the Cuba Exchange Program in 1985 and is now also a professor in the Latin American Studies Program. Since 1993, when the program relocated to Homewood from SAIS, it has expanded into areas such as medicine, public health, protection of the environment, literature, sociology and history. Smith, who proposed the conference and brought the Cubans to the United States, has lobbied publicly for improved relations between the two countries, criticizing the continuing U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. The academic exchange program, he said, is a step toward easing tension between the two nations. "We try to emphasize the kind of things that should be pulling the two societies together," he said. Antonio Pozas Ramos, an international relations professor at the University of Havana, said he was anxious to find common ground with faculty members from Hopkins. "We hope to exchange opinions and ideas with our colleagues here," he said, "and to improve teaching and learning about the environment at the two universities."
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