PEOPLE-TO-PEOPLE:

Research, education and exchange

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 1997-October 2000 program evaluation by

Muthusami Kumaran, Ph.D.

Research Associate, Youth Policy Institute

 

 

 

Dr. Muthusami Kumaran's areas of expertise include urban administration, policy analysis and evaluation, planning and development, and political science. He specializes in international relations and was commissioned to evaluate planning and development programs in Asia by the World Bank in 1992. He has done extensive field research on global sustainable development issues. Currently, he develops and implements strategic plans for community empowerment as a research associate with the African-American Strategic Planning Group.

I.    Cuban Research and Education Programs, Director

John I. Gilderbloom, Ph.D., is a Professor of Urban and Public Affairs and Director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville. After being invited to lecture Cuba in 1997, Dr. Gilderbloom was informed by his Cuban counterparts that there was a lack of quality programs to encourage an exchange of information between Cubans and Americans. In 1998, Dr. Gilderbloom began organizing Cuban research and education programs to fulfill the need for educational, professional and organizational interaction between the United States and Cuba. He utilized his professional expertise, for which he is internationally renowned, to design programs with a focus on sustainable development, historic preservation, planning, and architecture. These programs have provided an outlet for information and cultural exchange between professionals, academics and organizations from the United States and their Cuban counterparts. Dr. Gilderbloom's programs are a grassroots effort to better U.S.-Cuba relations through building "people-to-people" exchanges. His work has been praised by the former and current Ambassadors for the U.S. Interest Section as "truly important." Dr. Gilderbloom is known as powerful, charismatic, compassionate and intelligent.

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II. Travel and Educational Exchange

In 1997, Dr. Gilderbloom attended the Fourth Bienal de Architechtura del Caribe in, along with hundreds of fellow academics, planners and architectures. Dr. Gilderbloom was the only American present at the conference. At the conference, he made a presentation that highlighted new urbanism and his own experiences with sustainable development. He received requests for encore lectures. The eagerness of the Cuban people to share information, and their desire for quality interaction on a professional level, led to the inception of the Cuban research and education programs. The following year, Dr. Gilderbloom organized a group of Americans to attend the International Conference on Shelter and Revitalization of Old and Historic Urban Centers, held in March 1997. The group was comprised of a diverse individuals, including planners, architects, builders, and sociologists. Dr. Gilderbloom organizes the research and education programs in collaboration with Neighborhood Development Corporation (NDC), Louisville's oldest non-profit housing developer. NDC assists Dr. Gilderbloom with administrative support and use of a program coordinator to assist in organizing the programs.

The interest generated by the first program has led to over 20 research and education programs, with a total of more than 340 persons travelling to Cuba. Future programs are planned into the year 2001. The research and education programs have been featured in nationally syndicated newspaper columns, and recently received the 1999 "Insider Award," for excellence in educational travel form Travel Holiday, a publication with more than 625,000 readers. Travel Smart recently found that Cubanow.org programs are several hundred dollars than comparable programs. Budget Travel Magazine also featured Cubanow.org as a good program. The programs have also been featured on CNN and PBS. Gilderbloom has acted as a technical consultant to the recent National Geographic special issue on Cuba. Gilderbloom has also also consulted with CBS News, CBS 48 Hours and CNN on future programs on Cuba. Gilderbloom has written an article in Planning Magazine and is currently working on a book on Cuba.

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III. Fostering Educational, Professional and Organizational Exchange

Many of the contact persons for the research and education programs are recognized internationally. Ruben Bancroft, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Havana, and an internationally recognized architect, has been instrumental in forging a strong relationship and providing program support. The research and education programs resulted in Dr. Bancroft visiting the United States and giving lectures on the great need to preserve Cuba's architectural history through historic preservation. Mr. Sergio Garcia Gutierrez has been an important resource for the programs as President of the Union of Architects and Engineers, which has more than 10,000 members. Mr. Gutierrez awarded Dr. Gilderbloom with two certificate of appreciation to recognize the contribution the programs have made toward providing an information exchange between Cubans and Americans. Gilderbloom also earned a "Diploma" by the Dean of Architecture at the University of Havana. The programs have also enjoyed the support and participation of Eusebio Leal, Havana Town Historian and top elected official and special assistant of Fidel Castro, Dr. Mario Cabello, the Cuban Minister of Housing, Mr. Gregorio Alvarez Valdes, Director of International Relations, Ms. Isabella Rigol, former Head of Conservation of Old Havana, Arg. Salvador Gomila Gonzales, Deputy Chairman of National Housing Institute, and Mr. Jose Choy, a leading architect in Cuba. Participants also meet with leaders of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution and Cuban Insitute for Friendship. He has been featured on Cuban television several times and his work was praised on Cuban television by the President Chavez of Venezuella in a meeting with President Castro of Cuba.
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IV. Humanitarian Outreach

The Cuban research and education programs have institutionalized the donation of medical supplies as an organizational goal. Cuban hospitals and clinics suffer from a constant shortage of medical supplies, inadequate facilities, and antiquated equipment. Each individual traveling to Cuba is allowed to bring a maximum of 22 pounds. In the beginning, individuals where asked to acquire their own medical supplies. Dr. Gilderbloom quickly realized that this method would not produce the maximum amount of medical donations to Cuba. He sought and fostered a relationship with Supplies Over Seas (SOS), a local foundation whose mission is to provide free medical supplies and assistance wherever it is needed. Dr. Gilderbloom is now an active SOS board member. Currently, the research and education programs acquire and distribute the medical supplies with assistance from SOS. The programs have been responsible for delivering approximately 3,400 pounds of medical supplies to a hospitals and clinics throughout Cuba. These medical supplies have an estimated value of $340,000--assuming each participant brought 10 pounds of medicine each. Cubanow.org expects to double this amount for 2001 with over 300 more people coming with them. to Cuba.

As an effort to meet the need for common amenities, Dr. Gilderbloom brings clothing, toiletries, books, music, art supplies, and toys. Program participants are all urged to do the same. Recently, the programs made a large donation of clothing to a private church that works with Cuban AIDS patients after receiving information from the Cuban AIDS Project. Assisting those in need is the most basic form of building relationships and community between people and nations.

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V. Information Dissemination

As an active community member, Dr. Gilderbloom has had the opportunity to discuss the importance of improved U.S.-Cuba relations and the research and education programs with national leaders. On the local level, Dr. Gilderbloom regularly corresponds with Representative Congresswoman Anne Northup (3rd District, R-Ky.) as a way to disseminate information and heighten awareness about the potential for positive relations with Cuba. He has also met with United States Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and had a lengthy personal conversation with him regarding Dr. Gilderbloom's travels in Cuba and much needed policy changes. He has also met with five other U.S. Senators to discuss Cuba--Senators McConnell, Kerrey, Chafee, Leahu and Rockefeller. Most recently, Dr. Gilderbloom participated in a day long seminar on the economic impacts of the embargo with Congressional leaders and staff. He met personally with numerous elected House leaders and staff.

At a national level, Dr. Gilderbloom spoke to Secretary of State Madeline Albright during her visit to Louisville in spring 1998. He addressed policy issues regarding Cuba at an open forum discussion hosted by the University of Louisville. Additionally, he compared housing issues in the United States to those in Cuba with Martin Luther King III, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition. Dr. Gilderbloom highlighted the fact that there is a housing project in Havana, Cuba named in honor of his father, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Gilderbloom has also been asked to act as a consultant on National Geographic article on the restoration of Old Havana.

Internationally, Dr. Gilderbloom arranged meetings between research and education participants and the United States Interest Section in Havana, Cuba. These meetings have provided an informal setting for individuals to question the status of U.S.-Cuba policy and progress regarding free travel and professional exchange. Michael Kozak, Chief of U.S. Interest Section, complimented Dr. Gilderbloom for the contacts he has established with Cuban leaders in government and non-government organizations. Michael Kozak stated that he believed the relationships Dr. Gilderbloom has established supplied the programs with better contacts than the U.S. Interest Section has.  

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 VI. Community Outreach

Dr. Gilderbloom has fostered relationships through membership, advertisement, and listserv postings with important international organizations that have an established interest in the Cuban research and education programs. These organizations include the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Society of Architectural Historians, Urban and Community Sociology Section, Cuban Committee for Democracy, Americans for Humanitarian Trade for Cuba, H-Urban, New Urbanist, University and Community Partnerships, American Planning Association, and Progressive Planners Network. As a way to provide the maximum amount of people with up-to-date information on research and education programs to Cuba, Dr. Gilderbloom has developed an extensive web site: www.cubanow.org. This web site provides a constant stream of new information through slide presentations, essays, video presentations, details about travel to Cuba, and numerous links to relevant sites that will allow individuals to better understand U.S.-Cuba policy and travel. The site has received more than 23,135 hits from 52 countries. The website now overages about 150 hits a week. The number of hits have doubled in the past year. The website is very popular among Cuban architects, planners and preservationists and government officials. This is the only website in the world that provides a voice to Cuban design community. These community outreach efforts have achieved participation of a wide variety of individuals from interrelated fields. Individuals from the U.S. Treasury Department, Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Aviation Administration have traveled to Cuba with Dr. Gilderbloom as a direct result of these outreach efforts. Moreover, Dr. Gilderbloom was invited to speak at the Cuban National Heritage Symposium at the Institute San Carlos in Key West, Florida by the preservation group Cuban National Heritage. He gave a slide show presentation to illustrate the great need in Cuba for preservation efforts. At this symposium, Dr. Gilderbloom interacted with a wide range of individuals, including exile groups that offered another perspective on the state of U.S.-Cuban relations.

 

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 VII. Speaking Events:

The Cuban Research and Education Program (Cubanow.org) promotes the people-to-people public policy initiative to better US-Cuban relations through direct interaction between US citizens and Cubans. Cubanow.org has made nearly 30 policy presentations to top Cuban and United States officials in order to promote positive social change at a grassroots level. Among the organizations for which we gave presentations were the US Treasury Department, National Security Council, and State Department. Cubanow.org has been invited to speak at prominent universities such as MIT, Columbia, New York University, University of Southern California, University of California at Santa Barbara, Museum of Architecture in Southern California, National Building Museum in Washington D.C., New School of Architecture in San Diego, American Sociological Annual Conference, Skirball Center in Los Angeles, University of Cincinatti, University of Louisville, Parliamentarians National Conference, Professional Speakers Group, Rotary Club and Ohio State University. Gilderbloom will be keynote speaker in Washington D.C. at the Restoratin and Renovation Conference before 6,000 participants.. We feel that education and freedom go hand-in-hand and that our programs generate attention in some of the most basic and important public policy arenas.

Cubanow.org also feels that these speaking events are the best arenas to dispel common misconceptions about US-Cuban public policy and to encourage more research into public policy issues. Cubanow.org program director, Professor John Gilderbloom, is a member of the Board for Americans for Humanitarian Trade with Cuba.


Dr. Gilderbloom with Charles Shapiro, Coordinator of Cuban Affairs, US State Dept.


Gilderbloom speaking at US Building Museum in Washington D.C.


Dr. Gilderbloom at a meeting at the US State Department


John I. Gilderbloom meets at U.S. State Department with top officials on Cuba including Steven Pinter of OFAC/U.S. Treasury; Fulton Armstrong, Director for Inter-American Affairs, National Security Council; Lula Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant of Cuban Affairs U.S. Department of State and Craig Fuller, President Bush's former chief of Staff.


Eusebio Leal Havana's Town Historian, top government official and best friend of President Fidel Castro.


Leal and other top Cuban planners and architects meet in Havana.


John I. Gilderbloom meets with U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky to talk about the Embargo. Gilderbloom has met with five other U.S. Senators on Cuba and five other aids to U.S. Senators.

Writings

Dr. Gilderbloom has now writing a book, Architectural Wonders and Disasters: Cuban Planning, Preservation and Design which he hopes will be published in 2001. Gilderbloom is also writing a chapter on Cuba in the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Architecture. Academic and popular articles are also being prepared for publication.