Message from the Interim Director

The University of Miami’s ties to Cuba go back to the very beginnings of the academic institution. In 1926, UM’s fledgling football team played home and away games against the University of Havana football team. The Hurricanes won in both instances, helping cap an undefeated inaugural season.

Dr. Andy S. Gomez

Dr. Andy S. Gomez

Interim Director, UM Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies

But the relationship was not limited to athletics.

From its inception, UM professors were invited to teach at the University of Havana and vice versa. UM President Bowman Foster Ashe attended the bicentennial celebration of the University of Havana in 1928 and six years later, a group of Cuban students received scholarships to UM.

In 1947, the Cuban Ministry of Education sent a delegation of 70 teachers to visit UM and members of the Naval Academy in Cuba visited the U during the ‘40s.  

The academic relationship with the island waned after the arrival of Fidel Castro’s totalitarian regime in 1959. But as the exile community in Miami grew, UM was there to offer a helping hand. Under the leadership of UM President Henry King Stanford, thousands of Cuban professionals—doctors, architects, engineers, lawyers—received recertification in their professional fields through a program that helped them prepare for their respective State board exams. The classes were at UM’s satellite campus at the Koubek Center in Little Havana, which also served as a meeting place for Cuban and Latin-American cultural and political groups.

Every president of the U has made a commitment to the Cuban-American community in Miami. Under the leadership of Edward “Tad” Foote, the UM Libraries founded the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) in 1998, one of the largest repositories of Cuban books, documents and artifacts in the world.

The CHC serves as a premier research venue for scholars, students and academics and the Collection is housed in the elegant Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, which was funded by a generous challenge grant from The Goizueta Foundation and additional support from Elena Diaz-Verson Amos and the Fanjul Family.

Noted Cuban-American Librarian Esperanza de Varona served as head of the CHC from its creation until her retirement in 2013. She held the first Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair, which was funded by an anonymous donor.    

In 1999, the University opened the doors of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at Casa Bacardi in the Coral Gables campus as an academic and cultural hub which brought together researchers to do work on Cuba. ICCAS has produced articles, books and reports on Cuba, as well as videos on Cuba’s history and music.

As a founding member of ICCAS, I participated in panel discussions, conferences and other events where we analyzed Cuba’s society, economy, health system and education. In short, all aspects of life on the island.     

I am also proud to say that ICCAS has offered a platform to many Cuban dissident voices including Berta Soler, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Dr. Oscar Biscet, Rosa Maria Paya, Luis Garcia Antunez and many others who spoke of their displeasure with the communist government and laid out plans for a democratic path in the island.

Casa Bacardi continues to serve as a cultural center for the Cuban-American community, hosting lectures, concerts and art shows highlighting the wealth of creativity and talent in the Cuban and Cuban-American community.

The University’s commitment to the Cuban-American community continues under the leadership of UM President Julio Frenk. One of his first acts was to bring in Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez as the first Distinguished Presidential Fellow. During her time at the university, Sanchez, founder of 14ymedio, the island’s first digital news platform, met with students, faculty and members of the community to speak of the difficult challenges facing the Cuban people, and taught a seminar called “New Cuban Voices.”

Our commitment to the people of Cuba and the exile community will continue as ICCAS enters a new phase and I serve as Interim Director. My plans include bringing in younger audiences to our many events, upgrading the website to attract a wide range of participants and continuing the academic research that is crucial to an academic institution.      

Dr. Andy S. Gomez
Interim Director, UM Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies