Published April 30, 2015
There is only one place in Cuba José Buscaglia, director of Caribbean, Latin American and Latino Studies at UB, has not been: the naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
“I probably know Cuba better than any other person in the United States,” he said. “More than 10 years of exploration will do that to you.”
Turns out, it also will earn you an invitation to be part of the historic delegation that traveled to Cuba April 20-21 with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a trade mission. The group included state lawmakers, representatives of New York-based businesses and two members of the higher education community: SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Buscaglia, who was invited by Zimpher to accompany her on the trip.
“It was a historic trip and speaks volumes about UB that we were invited,” Buscaglia told the UB Reporter after returning from Cuba. “It was amazing to be an active participant in a process that, until very recently, I never thought I would get to witness in my lifetime — the re-establishment of normal relations between the U.S. and Cuba.”
Zimpher and Buscaglia met with Frank Gonzalez, acting rector of the University of Havana, and Magda Arias Rivera, director of international relations at the university. They discussed increasing the number of SUNY students going to Cuba, establishing a Cuban lecture series to better inform people about Cuba and starting an exchange program between SUNY and Cuban researchers and professors.
But the most important development of the trip, according to Buscaglia, was discussion to establish an internship program in Cuba for SUNY students. Students would attend classes at the University of Havana and other universities in Cuba, and take part in internships at Cuban research institutions and U.S. companies doing business in Cuba.
“This would keep UB and SUNY ahead of the game,” he said. “As every other university begins to think about engaging Cuba, we are building on a relationship we already have and furthering that relationship — a relationship no one else has been able to establish.”
Buscaglia, who taught in Havana each year from 2000-07, said he is fully confident this type of program can thrive.
And he would know.
In 2002 he helped launch the Master’s of Humanities (MAH) Program in Caribbean Cultural Studies, jointly operated by UB and the University of Havana as the first joint-degree granting program established between a U.S. and a Cuban university. Buscaglia, who has been a UB faculty member since 1993, served as chief of the delegation during negotiations that produced the agreement.
The program, now known as the MAH in Caribbean and Latin/o American Studies, has grown to include partner institutions in Mexico and Spain. It is housed in the Department of Transnational Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We built that program on the basis of respect for each other’s differences and full reciprocity,” Buscaglia said. “We did that under the most difficult of political circumstances, so I know full well we can do it now. It set UB apart then and will again now.”
Accompanying Gov. Cuomo and Chancellor Zimpher to Cuba is a fitting role for Jose Buscaglia, an energetic and talented leader in the Caribbean field at UB.