The Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies is at the center of a controversy between its outgoing director, Jaime Suchlicki, and the University of Miami, which has been its home for almost 20 years.
In a statement issued Friday, UM reported Suchlicki’s departure as director of the center. He will remain in office until Aug. 15.
“The University of Miami thanks Jaime Suchlicki for his extraordinary service to the University and the Miami community,” UM President Julio Frenk said in a statement. “He has dedicated his career to the study of Cuba and has shared his wealth of expertise with generations of students, scholars and members of our community.”
According to Suchlicki, UM also told him that ICCAS would cease to operate at the Casa Bacardi site on the university’s Coral Gables campus.
Suchlicki, who has been at the university for 50 years, said he was not retiring but rather “resigning,” apparently because of differences with Frenk over the future of Cuban studies at the institution.
“I am going to reestablish ICCAS somewhere else, possibly in the Museum of the Cuban Diaspora, and the staff is leaving with me,” he said.
But after the publication of Suchlicki’s statements in el Nuevo Herald, Jacqueline R. Menéndez, vice president for University Communications at UM, said “the only thing that has happened is that Jaime retires on Aug. 15 and there are no plans to close ICCAS.”
UM initially responded to el Nuevo Herald’s questions by sending a copy of Friday’s statement by Frenk. Menéndez said that as a rule, the university does not comment on its employees and that the initial silence was due to the desire to respect the agreement reached between the university and the director of ICCAS.
ICCAS did not pay rent for its offices at Casa Bacardi, but financed itself, and its budget did not depend on UM. Menéndez said ICCAS belongs to UM so Suchlicki could not take the center with him.
Several members of ICCAS said that among the reasons for Suchlicki’s departure and the alleged closure of the institute were plans to consolidate several centers in a Department of Latin American Studies and strengthening relations with Cuban universities through programs similar to those established by other U.S. universities, many of them lured by the thaw in relations with Cuba promoted by former President Barack Obama.
According to Menéndez, there are no consolidation plans and academic programs on Cuba are not related to Suchlicki’s retirement.
The UM statement indicated that it will seek to hire an academic expert on Cuban and Cuban American studies “to continue the research and partnerships housed at Casa Bacardi.”
Casa Bacardi, designed as a Cuban cultural center, was created with a donation by the Bacardi Family Foundation. It opened its doors three years after ICCAS was created in 1999. The company did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The UM statement added that Casa Bacardi “plays a significant role in both promoting greater understanding of contemporary Cuban issues and serving as a gathering place for the Cuban-American community, which will provide valuable input on this important search.”
“Casa Bacardi became a cultural temple in Miami, and the [ICCAS] center became one of the most important academic centers on Cuba, possibly in the entire world,” Suchlicki said. He will also be leaving the Emilio Bacardi Moreau chair in Cuban studies in the UM history department.
ICCAS has been a prolific producer of books, articles and reports on Cuba, and has organized conferences, seminars and short courses on island affairs. It also produced a documentary on the history of the island, narrated by Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia. ICCAS members are frequently quoted in the media and are respected among Cuban exiles.
Although ICCAS has been critical of the Cuban government, one of its researchers, Pedro Roig, said the center has focused on producing investigations “in the most balanced way possible.”
“The center is not going to close. We will move elsewhere, and we will continue the research that we’re carrying out now,” Roig said.
ICCAS also has hosted news conferences and other activities by Cuban opposition and human rights activists on the island as well as in exile.
“I believe the University of Miami should continue the work of supporting dissidents in Cuba and Cuban studies,” Suchlicki said.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres