Friday, April 17, 2009

Will it take a Jedi Master to get the U.S. and Cuba talking?

An Indian boy in Ecuador had so much fun with this Yoda mask that he didn't want to take it off
Cultural exchanges can help lead to international peace and understanding, Princeton professor Stan Katz says. As a former Fulbright scholar in Ecuador, I wholeheartedly agree.
Katz, who wrote a column that appeared in the Havana Note, praises the late Sen. William J. Fulbright, who was a believer in international exchange programs.
The Fulbright program, the U.S. government's largest international educational program, is named after the senator.
I have taken part in three educational exchange programs and they changed the direction of my life.
* In 1976, I was an American Field Service exchange student to Turkey.
* In 1979-80, I spent the year at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM, as part of the Junior Year Abroad program at Rutgers College.
* In 1981-82, I was a Fulbright scholar to Ecuador and spent much of the year learning about the Huaorani Indians and other indigenous groups.

A Huaorani child

Such programs help teach tolerance and civility. And that's something that's been lacking in U.S.-Cuba relations for most of the past half century.
Katz, who teaches public and international affairs at the Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, calls for stepped-up educational exchanges with Cuba. 

Tens of thousands of Americans traveled to Cuba during the Clinton years as part of "people-to-people" exchange programs. But the Bush administration eliminated those programs, USA Today reported in 2004.

Some U.S. lawmakers want to bring back people-to-people exchanges. But even if that doesn't happen, existing law allows students and teachers to visit Cuba. Said Katz:
There are still useful things we can do in Cuba. Faculty and graduate students can travel to do research, and undergraduates can enroll in Cuban universities...My colleagues and I have organized a Woodrow Wilson School undergraduate policy task force at the University of Havana for next spring, for instance. 
But we could all do much more, and in so doing we would be both reversing 50 years of a failed policy...
A Huaorani hunter

Cuban and U.S. officials don't need to agree with each other. But a little more respect, tolerance and civility can't hurt.


Directory of U.S.-Cuba Educational Exchanges
Sen. Richard Luger's February 2009 staff report on how to change U.S. policy toward Cuba

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