bridges vol. 30, July 2011 / Norm Neureiter on S&T in Foreign Policy
By Norman P. Neureiter
Science diplomacy missions lead to interesting places and often to remarkable discoveries completely unrelated to the science mission. My recent trip to Havana for a series of scientific meetings coincided with the 150th anniversary of the Cuban Academy of Sciences, chartered in 1861 by Queen Isabella II of Spain. This was just two years before President Lincoln signed legislation establishing the National Academy of Sciences in the US as a nongovernmental body to conduct studies and provide advice on request to the US Government. The Cubans are quite proud to claim the oldest, still active, national academy in the world outside of Europe - recognizing that its form has changed multiple times with the changes in the Cuban government since the Queen formally established the Royal Academy of Medical, Physical and Natural Sciences of Havana. Perhaps I will say more about Cuban science in a later issue of bridges.
But today's topic is on a different theme entirely. During a break in our Cuban program I made a touristy excursion to the Museum of the Revolution, housed in the former Presidential Palace from which President Batista fled to the Dominican Republic on January 1, 1959, essentially ending five years of revolutionary struggle led by Fidel Castro. The collection of weapons and equipment exhibited in the courtyard included a flame-throwing "tank" improvised from an ancient tractor, a makeshift ambulance, two old airplanes, a huge Soviet tank, and a large yacht well preserved in its own glass building - the Granma. This was the vessel on which Fidel and Raul Castro and some 80 other revolutionaries of Castro's 26th of July Movement returned to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 and began the final stages of their ultimate takeover of Cuba.