VIEWPOINT

An O.R. perspective on U.S./Cuba relations

By James J. Cochran

jcochran@cba.ua.edu

Will diplomatic relations lead to mutually beneficial collaborations?

Will diplomatic relations lead to mutually beneficial collaborations?

Fidel Castro. Cuban Missile Crisis. Nikita Khrushchev. Bay of Pigs. John F. Kennedy. Cuban Revolution. Batista.

Even those of us who are not old enough to actually recall the events and political leaders that led to the discontinuation of the diplomatic relationship between Cuba and the U.S., we all have an understanding of how these individuals and events are related to the severing of this relationship. Since the recent announcements by Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro that the diplomatic relationship between these two nations would be restored, there has been a great deal of speculation over the potential impact the restoration of this relationship will have on the U.S. and Cuba. This is a far more complex question that its treatment in the U.S. media would lead one to believe, and it is certainly beyond the scope of an article in OR/MS Today. But the impact of the restoration of this relationship on the operations research communities of the two nations is certainly within the scope of an OR/MS Today article, and my good friends Sira Alende and Carlos Bouza of the University of Havana have provided excellent support for such a discussion.

It would be easy to assume that restoration of the relationship between these two nations will provide tremendous opportunities for members of the U.S. operations research community to work with colleagues in the Cuban operations research community to resolve problems and issues faced by Cuba. However, as discussed by Sira and Carlos, members of operations research communities from many other nations have been working with their Cuban colleagues for decades. Indeed, as I walk through the streets of Havana, I hear German, French, Dutch, Portuguese and English with a wide variety of national accents, as well as other languages. We must keep in mind that Cuba is isolated only from the U.S.; essentially every other nation in the world has a diplomatic relationship with Cuba.

Given that accomplished and capable operations researchers from all over the world have been working with their Cuban colleagues for decades on problems faced by Cuba, we must conclude that there are other strong impediments to the implementation of operations research-based solutions in Cuba. The restoration of the diplomatic relationship will not immediately change this situation.

Based on my experience, members of the Cuban operations research community are cautiously optimistic about the potential impact of improved relationships between the two countries. They look forward to the opportunity to work more closely with their U.S. colleagues (as many of us in the U.S. operations research community look forward to the opportunity to work more closely with our Cuban colleagues). But the Cubans are also pragmatic; there is already substantial interaction between the U.S. and Cuban academic communities. For example, the University of Alabama has been working with Cuban academicians for eight years, and I have served on the scientific committees for seven Cuban conferences in operations research, statistics and mathematics (and I am not the only U.S. citizen to serve on these committees).

Several months before the restoration of the diplomatic relationship was announced, U.C. Irvine professor and INFORMS President Robin Keller and I had agreed to speak at the 2015 Teaching Effectiveness Colloquium at the 11th International Workshop on Operations Research in Havana this year. Collaborative efforts between U.S. and Cuban operations researchers have been in place for many years.

While the restoration of diplomatic relationships between the U.S. and Cuba continues to be a topic of political debate, it certainly will open new opportunities for collaboration between the operations research communities of the two nations. However, many obstacles remain as we attempt to forge these relationships, and patience and determination will be needed to establish mutually beneficial collaborations.

James J. Cochran (jcochran@cba.ua.edu) is a professor of applied statistics and the Rogers-Spivey Faculty Fellow in the Department of Information Systems, Statistics and Management Science of the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration. In addition, Cochran is a Fellow of the American Statistical Society and a co-founder of Statistics Without Borders. For more on O.R. in Cuba, click here.