1 DECEMBER 2017 • VOL 358 ISSUE 6367 1115 SCIENCE sciencemag.org
To celebrate its 80th anniversary, the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Med- icine (IPK) here is throwing a birth- day bash: a conference next week that several U.S. collaborators were plan- ning to attend. All but one has backed
out, says IPK virologist María Guadalupe
Guzmán. Some, she says, were unsettled by
recent claims that U.S. diplomats in Cuba
suffered what the Department of State has
described as “health attacks.” And two researchers with the U.S. Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) told IPK they
had to pull out because agency officials forbade them from traveling to Cuba.
Three years after the United States and
Cuba announced the restoration of diplomatic relations, the atmosphere for cooperation has grown sharply chillier. In June,
U.S. President Donald Trump announced
that he would roll back the rapprochement,
and his administration followed through
last month with rules that limit travel to
Cuba from the United States, and where
Americans can spend money on the island.
The new regulations don’t explicitly target
science and have exemptions for academics.
(CDC referred Science to the State Department; a spokesperson explained that “
short-term travel by U.S. government officials to
Cuba is currently limited to those involved
with the ongoing investigation” into the alleged attacks.) And the closure of the U.S.
consulate here in October means that Cubans must travel to a third country to apply
for a U.S. visa, all but shutting down visits
by Cuban scientists to the United States.
The United States’s “new hostile policy to-
wards Cuba undermines confidence” in joint
research, says Luis Montero-Cabrera, a chem-
ist at the University of Havana. The Trump
administration, adds John Van Horn, a neu-
roscientist at the University of Southern Cali-
fornia (USC) in Los Angeles, “has likely shut
the door to many U.S.-Cuban interactions.”
The toxic political atmosphere injects un-
certainty into several budding initiatives.
One focuses on arboviruses, mosquito-borne
pathogens that include the Zika, chikungu-
nya, and dengue viruses. After a call for pro-
posals on arbovirus research with Cuba, the
U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) ap-
proved in June four 1-year grants, each pay-
ing up to $50,000. Modest by U.S. standards,
the grants—administered by CRDF Global, a
nonprofit in Arlington, Virginia—are a bo-
nanza for Cuban scientists, who have scarce
resources for research. IPK won all four
grants, including studies of dengue immu-
nity and tests of the Wolbachia bacterium’s
ability to tamp down arbovirus transmission.
According to Guzmán, NIH informed IPK
that the grants have been “put on hold.” An
NIH spokesperson was unable to confirm
the grants’ status before Science went to
press. A CRDF official says the holdup is not
political; it involves long-standing difficulties in transferring funds to Cuba.
Other U.S. science activities on the island
are in limbo. In 2015, Tulane University in
New Orleans, Louisiana, became the first
NIH awardee ever to receive funds for use
in Cuba, says Arachu Castro, director of Tu-
lane’s Collaborative Group for Health Equity
in Latin America. “We continue to plan joint
research and teaching activities,” Castro says,
“but in light of the new U.S. regulations, we
are mindful of the need to have a plan B.”
Contingency planning is also underway at
USC, which last year inked an agreement
with the Cuban Center for Neuroscience
here. And Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health
is unsure whether a memorandum of under-
standing signed in June 2016 with the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services
continues to carry weight. “We don’t know
what will happen,” says the health ministry’s
Ileana Morales Suárez. “But we aren’t ready
to give up on exchanges with U.S. scientists.”
The news for Cuban science is not entirely dispiriting. In October, the European
Union’s flagship research program, Horizon
2020, announced it would allow Cubans to
apply for grants together with European
colleagues. And some U.S. collaborations
remain on track. The U.S. National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration sponsored
a joint research cruise last summer with the
National System of Protected Areas of Cuba
(SNAP) that circumnavigated the island, assessing coral reefs. This month, SNAP will
host several U.S. scientists here to discuss
next steps, including joint publications.
But SNAP’s workshop is an exception, as
U.S. visits to Cuba are tapering. About 80%
of U.S. chemists who signed up to attend Hot
Topics 2018, a workshop here next month
on chemistry collaborations, have pulled
out, Montero-Cabrera says. (Several U.S. scientists confirmed to Science that they will
not attend.) And it’s more daunting than
ever for Cubans to reach the United States.
Cubans seeking visas are being steered to
the U.S. embassy in Colombia—a prohibitively expensive trip for many Cuban scientists. IPK had planned to send five young
scientists to the University of Texas Medical
Branch (UTMB) in Galveston for training in
molecular studies of arboviruses and how to
organize a bank of viral strains. It’s unclear
when that will happen, Guzmán says.
Earlier this week, two UTMB scientists
ran a workshop at IPK on how to safely operate its new biocontainment laboratory. Now,
Guzmán is wondering when she will have
another chance to work with U.S. colleagues.
“I suppose this is the last activity we do together” for the foreseeable future, she says. j
Political chill reverses thaw
in U.S.-Cuban science
Blows to research collaborations are collateral damage of
the Trump administration’s moves to cool relations
By Richard Stone, in Havana
An insecticide fog fills the air in Havana after fumigation against the mosquito-borne chikungunya virus.