Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 29, 1996

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

     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

     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

     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

     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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