BY JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuban academics from both sides of the Florida Straits joined
Thursday in an
unusual show of coexistence in Miami, debating everything from Cuban politics to
Cuban literature in an atmosphere of studied coolness on the opening day of a
major conference on Latin America.
Havana's 124-member delegation made up one of the largest Cuban
ever seen at an academic meeting in the United States, reflecting President
Clinton's recent efforts to promote ``people-to-people contacts with Cuba while
maintaining the economic embargo against President Fidel Castro's government.
Neither Cuba nor the U.S. State Department vetoed the participation
Cubans in the conference of the Latin American Studies Association. ``Some
visas came late, but all arrived, a LASA official said.
Fractious disputes are not unknown at such conferences, but the
closest thing to
a controversy to erupt so far came when a surprisingly small group of conference
members from Havana submitted a resolution that would condemn the U.S.
embargo against Cuba. It was considered unlikely to pass.
The absence of fireworks on the first day of the LASA conference
served to allay
early fears that the presence of so many Cubans connected to the government
through their jobs at state-run universities might draw protest. The LASA
conference has drawn about 2,800 U.S. and 2,200 foreign university professors,
many from Latin America, to three downtown hotels.
From Thursday to Saturday, LASA plans to stage 691 two-hour seminars
topics including agriculture, democracy, economic development and the
environment, said Anthony Maingot, FIU anthropologist and LASA program
Cuba clearly drew major interest, with 36 seminars devoted to
its issues --
second to Mexico's 69 -- that went from the opening session, ``001: Cuban
Agriculture 1959-99 to ``684: Church-State Relations in Cuba.
Media reports last week on the Cuban involvement with the conference
controversy in Miami, capital of the Cuban exiles. Miami-Dade authorities tried
unsuccessfully to block LASA from using a county-owned hall for its opening
reception Wednesday night, and one conference organizer said he had received
But Cubans from the island and exiles appeared to go out of their
way to avoid
unseemly confrontations in the seminars Thursday, speaking in measured terms
and in the passive voice -- ``the decision was taken -- to avoid laying blame.
``No one can miss the symbolism here, exulted Maingot, who arranged
the panels, after two Havana economists and two exile sociologists joined to
address one of the touchiest panels: ``Cuba in the '90s. Political, Economic and
But it wasn't all academic blandness at the LASA conference, held
One Havana academic discreetly criticized Havana's rejection of
most private farm
ownership, at the root of its communist system, saying that agricultural efficiency
could improve if more land was in private hands.
Another grew visibly irked when an exile referred to poverty in
Cuba, arguing that
since the government guarantees all the basic needs of its people, Cuba has no
real poverty, only ``relative poverty.
Miami Police patroled the halls of the three hotels and checked
registration tags at key hallway intersections, but only three exile protesters had
turned up as of Thursday afternoon to demonstrate against the presence of
Cubans from the island.
LASA, which usually pays the air fare and accommodations of most
selected to address its seminars, said it was paying the expenses for about 70 of
the Cuban professors and researchers.
Most of the other Cuban visitors will go on to speaking engagements
at U.S. and
foreign universities that are paying their way.
A group of 31 Cubans from Havana lost no time Thursday circulating
resolution that would condemn the U.S. embargo and the Torricelli and
Helms-Burton laws as ``interventionist and extraterritorial.
There was no clear explanation of why the other 93 Cubans at the
not sign the draft resolution. ``I doubt it means they support the embargo,'' joked a
Cuban-American historian at the conference.
The Cubans have won votes on similar resolutions at past conferences
jamming the LASA business meetings held at the end of the sessions, when
most delegates have already begun to return home, a LASA official said.
Past LASA business meetings have required the presence of only
5 percent of
registered conference participants to vote on such resolutions. But this year the
quorum requirement was raised to 10 percent.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald