Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cuba, Si! A message from Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick on US/Cuba relations

This is a special post from a doctor working at The University of South Florida. Dr. Anthony Kirkpatrick has a long history of working against his country's unfair travel ban and trade embargo viz Cuba. In 1996, Kirkpatrick published an article in the high-impact Lancet, "Role of the USA in shortage of food and medicines to Cuba" (The Lancet, November 30, 1996; Vol. 398, No. 9040, pp. 1489-1491). Since this is a subscription-only publication and I can't share it with you in full, I've posted a screenshot of the article's abstract below:

On September 19, 2000, Dr. Kirkpatrick was invited by Rep. Charlie Rengel to testify before the U.S. International Trade Commission (House Ways and Means Cmte.). Kirkpatrick testified that the embargo has resulted in the deaths of Cuban citizens--and that the U.S. State Dept. has actively covered this up. You can view a 15 min clip of his testimony here.

Why is this important right now? Last month, Jeb Bush signed a new bill into Florida law that would effectively ban State Universities and Colleges from using funds to travel or do research at "terrorist states"...including Cuba. If this law had been in effect in 1996, Dr. Kirkpatrick could not have traveled to Cuba to conduct his research on the health-consequences of the trade embargo and there would be no publication in The Lancet. Needless to say, he is quite concerned and has established a website--a non-State-University website, mind (wouldn't want to be caught "lobbying" don't you know!).

I have received a request to post the following message. I am more than happy to do so [links added by me, where appropriate]:

A New Law Limiting International Travel and Academic Research is impacting Florida universities and colleges.

According to the Government of Florida, the following bill was passed June, 2006:
Travel To Terrorist States: prohibits use of funds from Community College Program Fund, or funds made available to community colleges from outside fund, to implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer activities related to or involving travel to terrorist state; prohibits use of state or non-state funds made available to state universities to implement, organize, or direct activities related to or involving travel to terrorist state, etc. Amends 1011.81,.90, 112.061. Effective Date: 07/01/2006 Last Event: 05/30/06 Approved by Governor; Chapter No. 2006-54 on Tuesday, May 30, 2006 4:27 PM
Section 2. Subsection (6) is added to section 1011.90, Florida Statutes, to read: State University funding.--'None of the state or non-State funds made available to State universities may be used to implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer, or to support the implementation, organization, direction, coordination, or administration of, activities related to or involving travel to a terrorist State. For purposes of this section, "terrorist state" is defined as any state, country, or nation designated by the United States Department of State as a state sponsor of terrorism.'
{Here is the entire text of the bill}

Dr. Anthony F. Kirkpatrick of the University of South Florida (USF)'s College of Medicine has indicated his "deep concern about the ban on travel to Cuba [one of the states listed as terrorist]. My publications in science journals about the impact of the embargo on the health of the Cuban people, testimonies before Congress, medical flights to Cuba . . . all required travel to Cuba." He also mentioned, "We have a unique opportunity to beat this and send a message to Tallahassee that they cannot be curtailing academic freedom in their attempt to run foreign policy from the capitol." He and two other academic physicians have documented the impact of the medical blockade [on their website]
"None of these public disclosures about the government's conduct on a major public health issue would have possible without travel to Cuba," he added.

According to the USF Vice Provost, "The State University System (led by the Chancellor) has well articulated its opposition to this bill:

'We need you to voice your concern regarding HB 1171 and SB 2434, which will prohibit faculty travel to terrorist states. This bill is an attack on academic freedom. While it may be well-intended, it can be a first step toward reducing the academic freedom that is so critical to research and classroom creativity. As well, it will send a message to scholars both nationally and internationally that Florida is not serious about free inquiry. Finally, closing down access would greatly undermine Florida's academic efforts to gather that much needed information. We believe that there are better ways to address the underlying concerns of this bill.'

He added the following points:
  • An attack on academic freedom - restricts research and classroom creativity
  • Sends a message to scholars nationally and internationally that Florida is not serious about free inquiry
  • We need more rather than less information on states that are hostile to the U.S. -for national security, economic health, social/cultural/political understanding.
  • Finally, as a scholar who is deeply committed to the principle of academic freedom and who continues to conduct work in the area of globalization, I am very much concerned at the likely negative impact of the passage of [this bill] SB 2434 on (a) the freedom of faculty and students to pursue their chosen scholarly endeavors at Florida's public universities, (b) the ability of SUS institutions to attract and retain world class scholars, (c) our contribution to enhanced global understanding, and (d) any strides we might make toward achieving improved global security and, ultimately, world peace."
Subsequently, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida (ACLU) filed a lawsuit June 13, 2006 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, challenging the constitutionality of the recently signed law. There are a number of plaintiffs in this lawsuit.


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