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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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State ban on Cuban research makes no sense

Florida is the only state in the nation that prohibits its university professors and students from collaborating with researchers and educators in Cuba.

The destructive law hurts Florida’s scientists without penalizing Cuba.

As the Tribune’s Paul Guzzo reports, a Florida Senate bill adopted in 2006 forbids the use of any money connected to a state university to be used for travel to nations on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which includes Cuba.

The island nation is a socialist dictatorship but hardly a serious threat to the United States.

Yet the legislation treats the neighboring nation as though this were the Cold War era.

As Guzzo found, the provision is particularly harmful to marine research, as scientists in other states “have begun collaborating with their counterparts in Cuba on research that could reverse the deteriorations of coral reefs, prevent overfishing, and lead to better understanding of Gulf Ecosystems.”

But researchers at state universities are shut out of the effort, though a number of marine creatures such as the spiny lobster migrate between the countries’ coastal waters.

The law doesn’t just handicap researchers. It also prevents Florida students from pursuing education opportunities in Cuba. Students from across the nation — or those from private institutions — can participate in studies in Cuba. Only students at Florida’s schools are kept from interacting with Cubans.

This punishes Floridians, not the Cuban government.

As Kathleen Betancourt, former associate vice president of government relations at the University of South Florida, aptly asked in a Tribune op-ed last year: “Isn’t it a good thing when faculty and staff cross borders and work together, challenging one another in the sciences, the arts, culture, history, agriculture and every other discipline?”

It is encouraging that U.S. officials recently were involved in the development of an oil spill cleanup plan that includes five Gulf of Mexico countries, including Cuba.

Guzzo recently reported that Al Fox, of Tampa, who’s pushed for better relations with Cuba, helped make the agreement possible by introducing U.S. oil and environmental leaders from the private and government sectors to members of the Cuban government.

The progress, critical to protecting our waters from oil spills, would have been impossible at the state level.

Even those who don’t want to end the Cuba trade embargo should understand such communication benefits both nations.

Lawmakers should revisit the issue and see that Florida’s sanctions against the free exchange of ideas and research is a policy more appropriate for a totalitarian state, not a democracy.

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