Following a private meeting Friday with 17 representatives of the Cuban exile community, the University of Miami announced that it will not establish agreements with Cuban universities or other institutions run by the Cuban government.
According to a statement, UM President Julio Frenk assured participants that “the University will not establish any institutional agreements with the current Cuban government, including its universities.”
Frenk, who took over as UM president in 2015, found himself in the middle of a heated controversy with members of the Cuban-American community because of speculation about an impending closure of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) following the departure of its director, Jaime Suchlicki.
In July, UM announced the departure of Suchlicki without clearly explaining what would happen with ICCAS. The former director of the institute said he had received instructions to “cease operations” in August. He also referred to his departure as a “resignation,” not as a retirement, because of differences with Frenk about the future of ICCAS.
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Some members of the Cuban exile community worried about the loss of a university space that frequently hosted dissidents from the island, as well as other opponents of the Castro regime. The appointment of ICCAS founder Andy Gómez as interim director seems to have added fuel to the fire.
On Thursday, Inspire America President Marcell Felipe issued a statement asking for Gómez’s replacement because of his involvement with boat trips to Cuba “in which he lectures U.S. businessmen on investing in Cuba.” Gómez has said he canceled his participation in these trips.
Similarly, the Cuban Resistance Assembly, a coalition of Cuban exile organizations, said in a statement Thursday that Gómez’s appointment would “further divide the Cuban-American community of the University of Miami, rather than unite it” and requested “that the University / Institute does not establish relations of exchange with academic institutions on the island because they are under the direct control of the Cuban one-party totalitarian state.”
UM found an “elegant solution” to the controversy, Felipe said. After the meeting, the university also announced that a search for a new permanent ICCAS director would begin “immediately” and that the search would be headed by UM Provost Jeffrey Duerk.
“We will develop a mechanism for the Cuban-American community to provide input on this important search. While the search for a permanent director is underway, no policy changes or hiring will take place at the Institute,” the UM statement added.
The gathering with exiles, which was closed to the media, included high-profile Cuban Americans and others with an interest in Cuba. Among those present: Brigade 2506 President Humberto Arguelles; former Coral Gables mayor and diplomat, James Cason; vice president and regional general manager of Univision in Miami, Claudia Puig; author and journalist Carlos Alberto Montaner; Felipe, of Inspire America, as well as several members of Facts About Cuban Exiles (F.A.C.E) and Operation Pedro Pan.
“In my opinion many things were clarified,” said Montaner. “Dr. Frenk acknowledged the merits of Suchlicki and assured that ICCAS would continue to function.”
“I think the meeting was important in order to explain what ICCAS meant under Suchlicki,” he added, “as an expression of the Cuban victims of the totalitarian dictatorship.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres