Learning about Cuba at Columbia

To provide a quick background of the Cuba Program at Columbia University in New York, the program is aimed at increasing scholarly exchanges between Cuban and U.S. based scholars and other experts in other countries on topics of mutual interest through a variety of mechanisms, such as publications, public lectures, and academic visits. Columbia academics also visit Cuba to engage in comparative analysis of topics of mutual interest. The research undertaken by both Cuban and US scholars has resulted in a variety of publications in the US and abroad. Cuban entrepreneurs and scholars have spent extended periods at Columbia on study trips to deepen their knowledge of strategies to meet the challenges of the non-state sector on the island. The Program has also actively cooperated with the media in promoting greater understanding of US-Cuban relations.

Today marks the end of my first two weeks on the job. The amount of resources available here at Columbia is absolutely incredible. The Institute of Latin American Studies here at Columbia has its own library and reading room along with a full-time librarian who is an expert on all publications, databases, etc. pertaining to the region. I met with him this week and he showed me how to navigate through the different databases. I was introduced to a whole world of knowledge that I had only scraped the surface of before coming here. In the photo below, you can see my official ID  (figure 1) which gets me into all different buildings on campus (including the libraries and archives) and thus, allows me to checkout different books/documents needed for our research.

I am already learning a lot about Cuban history, culture and politics but I feel like I am also learning a lot about how academic/research institutions function and are successful. My boss/mentor/professor is so well versed, wise and knowledgeable. She has gone into conflict zones in Latin America to conduct research and serves on several Human Rights councils. Not only has she traveled to Cuba 63 times for research purposes alone but she is also considered one of the world’s leading scholars on religion and society in Cuba. It is truly an honor to work alongside her. I have a feeling that I am going to learn a lot from her. She was even kind enough to invite me to her home this past weekend to borrow a few books from her personal library. I was so happy! Below you can find the book she and her colleagues published last year (photo 2) and the one for this year (photo 3).







My mentor will be heading to Miami in a few days for a conference at the US Southern Command (the part of the military that deals with the Latin American) to do several presentations on human rights challenges facing the armed forces in the region. Most military leaders of the Latin American countries will be in attendance! We’ve been working tirelessly for the past few days on gathering data for that. It can be tough at times because you can look through countless books and articles and still not find what you’re trying to convey. That being said, nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment when you finally find the perfect data! Below you can find one of the graphs (figure 4) we’ll be using (source: Isacson, Adam. and Kinosian, Sarah. U.S. Military Assistance and Latin America – WOLA. [online] 27 April 2017) as well as a chart (figure 5) that I put together regarding US involvement and human rights program effectiveness in Latin America.

I am so excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!


Natalia Gonzalez