The University of Miami has appointed founder and former senior fellow Andy Gómez as interim director of the Institute of Cuban and Cuban- American Studies.
Gómez, who retired from UM in 2012 with a Presidential Medal, replaces Jaime Suchlicki, who will leave ICCAS on Aug. 15, according to a UM statement.
He said he was "honored" to be asked to return.
“First, we need to honor Jaime Suchlicki for his work and dedication to the university," Gómez said. "My intention here is to preserve some of the legacy that Suchlicki created ... part of the good work that has been done ... and to begin to move forward in some of the programming aspects of ICCAS, but more importantly to begin a search for a permanent director. That is going to take some time.”
Gómez was assistant provost of UM between 2005 and 2012, and dean of the School of International Studies between 2001 and 2004. More recently, he traveled to Cuba for Pope Francis’ 2015 visit to the island. He and his family also support two programs at the Church of Our Lady of Mercy in Havana.
Following UM’s recent announcement of his departure, Suchlicki publicly refuted insinuations that he was retiring stating that he was “resigning” due to differences with President Julio Frenk on the university’s mission for Cuban studies. He further stated that he had received notice that the ICCAS would close in August and that he had plans to move the institute to another location.
An official at the University of Miami disputed Suchlicki’s version of what transpired. Jacqueline R. Menendez, UM's vice president for communications, said there are no plans to close the center.
The controversy has raised some concern among members of the Cuban-American community.
The National Association of Cuban Educators (NACAE) sent a letter to Frenk requesting that ICCAS not be closed because it could be interpreted as a "lack of support for the Cuban community." The Mother’s Against Repression group asked Frenk to hold off on a decision so that members of the Cuban-American community, lawmakers and donors could weigh in.
Gómez’s appointment puts an end to speculation about an immediate closure of the institute.
Founded in 1999, ICCAS for years received several million dollars from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to finance the Cuba Transition Project. But the administration of former President Barack Obama cut those funds significantly and ICCAS cut some of its staff. Its digital site is has become outdated and several of its databases are no longer available.
Gómez said his priorities include looking at ways to provide more “meaningful information” on the website, raise funds for the institute and attract a younger audience to events at Casa Bacardí.
ICCAS’ academic rigor has been questioned some some in the field of Cuban studies. Many other U.S. universities have already developed institutional relationships with their Cuban counterparts and established study abroad programs.
Events at Casa Bacardí, by contrast, often feature speakers from the island’s dissident movement and members of anti-Castro organizations in exile.
“ICCAS has suffered a little bit by being, at times, too political to one side,” said Gómez. “I think institutes have to find a balance and stay in the middle.
“I strongly believe in academic freedom,” he said. “...ICCAS should be a center for everybody to feel comfortable to come and share different points of view. I know that is always a bit challenging in our community but we have come a long way.”
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