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London-based IISC to be Europe's first institute dedicated to the study of Cuba
CubaNews / October 2007

By Larry Luxner

Great Britain’s International Institute for the Study of Cuba (IISC) officially kicks off its activities Oct. 10 with a lecture by noted French journalist Ignacio Ramonet.

Ramonet is editor of Le Monde Diplomatique and author of “Cien Horas con Fidel” (100 Hours With Fidel). The book is to be published in English next month by Allan Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, as “Fidel Castro: My Life.”

“Ignacio’s book on Castro has been a huge bestseller in both Cuba and Spain, and is sure to make a huge impact in the English-speaking world,” said Stephen Wilkinson, assistant director of IISC. “No person alive has had the privilege of speaking as frankly with the Cuban leader. This will be a tremendous launch for our in-stitute and we are very excited at the prospect.”

Ramonet’s free lecture is expected to be at-tended by 150 people, and is the first in a three-part series that also includes lectures by Philip Peters of the Lexington Institute, whose Nov. 14 speech is entitled “After Castro: An American Perspective,” followed by the University of Hav-ana’s Luís Alberto Montero-Cabrara, to speak Dec. 12 on “Cuba’s Scientific Revolution.”

IISC is a nonprofit research and academic institute run by London Metropolitan University. It was established in May and is headed by Wilkinson and executive director Patrick Pietroni.

“Our mission is to make an objective and rigo-rous appraisal of the Cuban social experience,” Wilkinson told CubaNews in a phone interview from London. “We feel there may be some lessons to be learned with regard to policy issues such as health-care and education. And we think now is the right time to do this, because of the generational shift going on in Cuba.”

Wilkinson said that London Metropolitan University, where IISC is housed, was formed 10 years ago by the merger of two polytechnic schools; today, it ranks among Britain’s largest universities, with 35,000 students.

“Part of the rationale for IISC is to have a site of expertise on Cuba that’s located beyond the Washington-Miami-Havana nexus so that it can be as objective as possible,” he said. “We feel that there’s been a lack of objectivity which affects policy-making. People don’t look at Cuba objectively enough.”

Wilkinson added that “there is no center like this in Europe, and in fact, outside of Miami there’s no center like this anywhere. That’s why it’s so important to do this.”

IISC is, in fact, very similar to the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS), with one crucial difference: ICCAS receives about $1 million a year in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development.

On the contrary, said Wilkinson, “we are completely independent of government. We have set up a foundation called the Cuba Studies Trust that will raise funds for our educational work. We will need millions of dollars over the next three to five years, and we plan to raise quite a large amount of money.”

IISC aims to have, by 2010, a fully functioning institute employing a full-time staff of 16, with four sub-units: a policy unit, a research unit, an academic center and a travel and consultancy service.

The policy unit, under the directorship of professor Margaret Blunden, plans to make objective appraisals of Cuban policy in the public interest, and for use by policy-makers and planners around the world.

The research unit will carry out projects in collaboration with the University of Havana and other institutions in Cuba, in the areas of medicine, biochemistry, sports medicine and education.

The academic center will include a master’s program in Cuban studies; undergraduate modules in Cuban history, literature and culture; modules and courses for other institutions, and evening courses for adult learners.

Finally, the IISC plans a consultancy and travel unit that will offer “accurate and effective advice and support to businesses and investors seeking to take advantage of opportunities in the Cuban market.”

According to the institution’s website, “our office in Havana is an essential link that ensures close and immediate communication with the island. For filmmakers, TV producers and journalists, the IISC can help ensure effective results when working in what can be a perplexing and idiosyncratic environment. We can help smooth the application process for visas and provide on-the-ground support for media teams visiting the island.”

The IISC also plans on publishing an International Journal of Cuban Studies — a peer-reviewed, online and open-access academic journal that will appear three times a year, with articles in English and Spanish.

The journal is to be edited by Peitroni and professor Jean Stubbs of London Metropoli-tan University, and should begin publication in early 2008.

“It will be online, because we want to make it accessible to everybody, including universities in the Third World that usually can’t afford subscriptions,” said Wilkinson.

The two men heading IISC have years of Cuba-related experience.

Between 1997 and 2002, Pietroni led delegations of over 100 British doctors to Cuba to undertake bilateral exchanges between each nation’s unique health-care system. This culminated in a meeting between the Cuban and British ministers of health. Pietroni has published widely on health matters and has been editor of two international journals.

Wilkinson first visited Cuba in 1986. He has a doctorate in Cuban literature and has written numerous articles on such issues as the history of US-Cuba relations, Cuban attitudes towards homosexuals and the nature of the Cuban state.

Among other things, Wilkinson has contributed to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s reports on Cuba, and has consulted on several TV programs about the island, most recently Channel 4’s documentary “638 Ways to Kill Castro.” Last year, Wilkinson’s book “Detective Fiction in Cuban Society and Culture” was published by Peter Lang. Wilkinson said that for now, it costs nothing to join IISC.

“You can sign up and subscribe to the mailing list for free,” he told CubaNews. "Eventually, as we progress, there may be a form of associate membership where we ask people to pay. But a present, we want to be as accessible as possible.”

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