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1. Can you share with the SBI members some details about the organization of the
6th ALAI Congress of Immunology?
As you know, the Latin American Association of Immunology (ALAI) was
founded in 1984 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and accepted as a Federation by the
International Union of Immunological Societies (IUIS) in 1987. The founding members
of ALAI were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico, soon followed by Colombia and
Venezuela in 1987, and Uruguay in 1989. Paraguay and Cuba became members in 1996.
ALAI groups probably some 1,500 Latin American immunologists.
ALAI is best known by its Triennial Latin American Immunology Congresses,
which have been held in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987
), Sao Paulo, Brazil (1990
), Santiago de Chile, Chile (1993),
Zacatecas, Mexico (1996
), and Punta del Este, Uruguay (1999).
The 6th Latin American Congress of Immunology will have as host the city of
Havana, capital of the Republic of Cuba, from December 9 to 13, 2002. The Organizing
Committee of Havana ALAI 2002, as we have shortened the Congress’ name, has made a
very serious effort to organize a meeting that could represent well ALAI’s main goal:
“..to improve pre- and postgraduate education in immunology, and the regional
collaboration in basic and applied research in human and veterinary immunology..”.
Among the actions we have already taken for a successful ALAI Havana 2002 are:
1. A highly informative website has been made operative, where the different
aspects of the Congress and of its venue are described, together with data
about ALAI, and a special section covering interesting ALAI News. This is
the first time ALAI has a website, with regularly up-dated information about
our organization, and specially dealing with its next Congress. It is our goal to
keep ALAI Havana 2002 as “electronic” as possible, within our website. The
SBI members are invited to check http://alai.cigb.edu.cu and to send us their
2. The Havana Convention Center (HCC) has been selected as the venue for the
meeting. With its large experience in event organization, and excellent
facilities, the HCC has agreed to provide its services and facilities with very
low cost to ALAI, in exchange for the rights on the registration fees and on
the outcome of the parallel Commercial Exhibit. Check our website and the
link to the HCC site for more information.
3. Basic and Clinical Research in Immunotherapy (in its widest sense) has been
defined as the MAIN SUBJECT for the meeting. Likewise, FOUR
PRINCIPAL HEALTH PROBLEMS will de considered priority: Cancer, and
Bacterial, Viral, and Parasite Infections. However, these subjects will not
exclude the presentation and discussion of many other aspects (detailed in our
website) in ALAI Havana 2002. The Scientific Program is now under
conformation, and the input of Brazilian immunologists wishing to present
their results will be particularly important in order to “arm” the different
Symposia, Workshops, and Plenary Conferences.
4. A partnership with the Travel Agency Havanatur S.A. has been established, so
as to provide delegates with excellent accommodation options, and with its
associated agencies network worldwide for travel connections to Cuba.
5. At our request, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has agreed to
sponsor our Congress and consider it as one of the events to celebrate their
2002 Centennial. The PAHO Executive is studying our requests of funds for
the attendance of young immunologists to the meeting, and for the delivery of
a PAHO award for a LA immunologist.
6. Also at our request, the IUIS Council has agreed to develop its 2002 ordinary
reunion in Havana, coincident with ALAI Havana 2002. This will enable us to
have an additional number of prestigious immunologists attending and
participating in our meeting. The new IUIS Council is formed by: Philippa
Marrack (President, USA), Mohamed Daha (Secretary General, Holland),
Fritz Melchers (Past-President, Switzerland), Anne Kelso (Past Secretary
General, Australia), Josef Smolen (Treasurer, Austria), Rolf Zinkernagel
(proposed Vice-President, Germany), and Members, Regional
Representatives, and Associates: Rose Leke (Cameroon), Stanley Ress (South
Africa), Lindsay Dent (Australia), Xian-hao Xu (China), Masayuki Miyasaka
(Japan), Narinder Mehra (India), Stitaya Sirisinha (Thailand), Marianna
Newkirk (Canada), Paul W. Kincade (USA), Ethel Garcia-Latorre (Mexico),
Alberto Nieto (Uruguay), Martin Röllinghoff (Germany), Marilyn Moore
(UK), Anders Orn (Sweden), Cornelius J. M. Melief (Holland), Marie
Christine Bene (France), Jorge V. Gavilondo (Cuba), Sergio Romagnani
(Italy), Jorge Kalil (Brazil), Malcom Turner (UK), Joan Lunney (USA),
Rudolf Valenta (Austria), and Genevieve Milon (France).
7. Funds requests have been sent to several sources, as the TWAS, the UNESCO
Regional Office, the Wellcome Foundation, different immunology societies,
and many companies. While we have already established a cumulative fund
for travel, registration, and/or accommodation of some invited speakers, with
a substantial part of the discrete allowances that ALAI has received from the
IUIS in the period 2000-2002, our wish is to substantially augment this fund
so as to be able to cover some expenses of young immunologists, and to
increase the number of invited speakers receiving some financial help.
8. The Latin American Biology Network (RELAB) accepted our request and will
be sponsoring and promoting the meeting.
Our aim is to have in ALAI Havana 2002 not less than 800 delegates from Latin
America, Cuba, and the World. We have all the right conditions and facilities, a vigorous
national scientific and biomedical movement, with Immunology as spear head, and the
will to make a Congress that can show the World, and specially IUIS, that we in Latin
America can organize and carry out top-of-the-line international scientific reunions.
But in this endeavor the support and participation of Latin Americans as delegates
and speakers is essential. I would personally like the meeting to be first “Latin
American”, and only then be further classified as “International”. It is true that the times
are difficult, and the economics constraints large, but if Cuba, that has been blocked for
40 years as no other country has been in history, can provide the adequate organization
platform and scientific environment for a meeting as important as this, then I would
expect that our colleagues from Brazil and other ALAI countries, will do their best to
support us with their presence.
The SBI is the largest immunology society of ALAI, and Brazil the South American
giant. I am sure we will have your help in organizing a large Brazilian delegation to
ALAI Havana 2002, in terms of speakers, delegates, and young immunologists and
students. Your effort in identifying funding sources to cover your full attendance to the
meeting is extremely important. Your help in contacting Brazilians living in Europe and
the United States, willing as always to share their knowledge and resources with the
motherland, is another important task for the SBI (as it is for all the other ALAI
2. We have learned that the American Society of Immunologists (AAI) has decided
not to appear as a sponsor of ALAI Havana 2002. Can you comment on this?
Following the mandate of the ALAI General Assembly held in Punta del Este, of
promoting the attendance of US immunologists to our 6th Congress, I officially asked in
June this year the AAI for four things: (a) the possibility of including their society in the
sponsors list, (b) their help in the identification of USA immunologists that could be
speakers in some special sessions of the event, (c) the diffusion of our conference through
their website, and (d) the coverage of travel expenses of at least 10 USA immunologists
to the ALAI Havava 2002 Congress.
In a response letter dated November 29, the AAI has indicated to us that:
“…after consultation with our attorneys, we have concluded that the U.S. sanctions law
against Cuba would likely bar AAI from sponsoring or otherwise participating in the
conference and have decided not (bold and underlining is theirs) to seek U.S.
government permission to become a sponsor (or to otherwise assist in organizing the
conference, including identifying speakers). We certainly appreciate the invitation and do
intend to seek U.S. government permission for Dr. Paul Kincade, AAI’s representative to
the International Union of Immunology Societies (IUIS), to attend the conference…”
It is nothing new that the relationships between the Cuban and USA governments
have been strained over the last 4 decades, due to what many consider a short sighted
policy of successive White House administrations. Because such policy has much to do
with the response of AAI, I would like to use some time of the SBI members to check on
some facts. For the sake of simplicity and I will use several paragraphs from what has
been published in the web by the American Association for the Advancement of Science
(AAAS), in its Right to Travel Initiative (http://shr.aaas.org/rtt), spiced with some
personal comments (in italics) and minor editing:
“…..Citing national security concerns, the U.S. government imposed an economic
embargo on Cuba in 1961 (that we call blockade), and restrictions on travel of US
citizens to Cuba, in response to the nationalization of U.S. companies by the
Revolutionary Government, under the frame of the Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917,
which grants the power to prohibit financial transactions in time of war.
While many other countries left the compensation negotiations with Cuba to the
affected companies, the U.S. administration decided to take the matter in its hands, by
compensating the nationalized U.S. companies, and assuming directly the responsibility
of responding to the measures taken.
In July 1963, the U.S. Treasury Department released the Cuban Assets Control
Regulations, which codify the essential elements of the economic embargo against Cuba.
Such elements include a freeze of all Cuban-owned assets in the U.S., a prohibition on all
non-licensed financial and commercial transactions between Cuba and the United States
and between Cuban and U.S. nationals. The financial prohibition includes the spending of
money by U.S. citizens for travel to Cuba, which essentially created a travel ban on the
island for all non-licensed U.S. citizens.
The embargo regulations have been eased and tightened several times over its
forty-year history. In 1977, the Carter Administration removed all restrictions on travel to
Cuba. However, the Reagan Administration reinstated an even stricter travel ban in 1982
and travel restrictions on most U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba continue to this day.
In October 1992, President George Bush signed the Cuban Democracy Act
(CDA). The CDA was a major effort to further isolate the region during a critical
economic downturn after the fall of the Soviet Union (a period referred to in Cuba as the
"special period"). The Act prohibited foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from
trading with Cuba. The CDA is important in relation to the travel ban because it grants
the Treasury Department for the first time the authority to level civil fines up to $50,000
on individuals who violate the embargo.
In March 1996, the Cuba Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act (also called the
"Helms-Burton Act" after the bill's sponsors) became law. The law was passed shortly
after Cuba shot down two small planes flown by the U.S.-based Cuban exile group,
Brothers to the Rescue. The Helms-Burton Act was designed to further impede economic
recovery of the Cuban government by increasing the pressure on foreign investors on the
As a response, Cuba opened the island to foreign investment, especially in the
tourist industry. One of the most controversial measures in the Helms-Burton Act is Title
III, which allows foreign companies to be taken to US courts if they are found to be doing
business on nationalized property formerly held by US citizens. The Act requires the U.S.
President to either waive or enforce this provision every six months. To this day, both
Presidents Clinton and Bush have exercised the waiver and the provision has not been put
into effect. The next scheduled waiver will be in January 2002.
The Helms-Burton Act also affects travel restrictions by codifying the existing
Cuban Asset Control Regulations. Travel restrictions are normally imposed by Executive
authority. The Act changed this by requiring that any changes to the regulations would
now require an act of Congress.
On January 5 1999, President Clinton announced that the U.S. was taking
additional steps to expand the flow of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. Among the
initiatives the President announced were an expansion of people-to-people contact
through two-way exchanges among academics and scientists and streamlining the
approval process for their visits. As a result, most scientists and researchers now fall
under the general license category, which means they are legally authorized to engage in
travel-related transactions and do not need to apply for an OFAC license (my
In May 1999, the Treasury Department issued updated regulations in accordance
with President Clinton's announcement that made traveling to Cuba easier for those
previously eligible for licenses, such as scientists and researchers, and opened up a few
new categories for legal travel. On 26 July 2001, the Treasury Department issued the
newest regulations. These most recent regulations leave many of the provisions allowing
freedom of travel for scientists and researchers largely untouched (my underlining). The
provisions of the regulations that are most relevant to scientists and researchers can be
checked in detail in: http://shr.aaas.org/rtt/policy.htm#intro
So, what’s the bottom line here? Our event is academic and international,
sponsored by prestigious international organizations, open to scientists from any country,
will have free worldwide diffusion, and has nothing to do with commerce, tourism, or
biotechnology. With such conditions as a principle, it seems clear that US immunologists
can apply for a license to the OFAC or could even travel under the general license
category, without even contacting the OFAC (http://shr.aaas.org/rtt/assistance.htm).
US academicians may feel under a freedom status that government employees or
company scientists don’t, but application for a license to attend the meeting is a right.
This right is extensive to Scientific Societies, Companies, and Universities, which can
also ask for group licenses (http://shr.aaas.org/rtt/assistance.htm). In April this year, a
substantial number of US chemists attended an International Meeting organized in
Havana by the Cuban Chemical Society. They were largely supported and backed by the
American Chemistry Society, which took in its hands the task of ensuring their legal
participation in the Congress by directly contacting OFAC and others.
At the end, the response of OFAC to a license application is always a case-by-
case situation, and can be tinted by the political “environment”, but this should not
prevent US immunologists to try to attend ALAI Havana 2002, and in my belief, the AAI
to try to sponsor our regional meeting.
Returning to your original question, my only concerns about the AAI decision in
this case, which I fully respect as a sovereign one, are the “case closed” tone and
“lawyer-like” language prevalent in their response. I would have imagined the AAI, as
scientists, even in view of the recommendations of their attorneys, would have left
nevertheless a door open for the rapidly evolving future, and in a more simple language,
tell us that things were complicated at the moment (moreover since the tragic events of
September 11), and that the request for sponsorship could be re-discussed in the future.
This same friendlier, colleague-like tone could have been used to ask us, in the same
letter, to erase from the Regional and International Advisory Board the names of any
person somehow linked with the AAI.
So, what will we do now? Well, we will seek collaboration from other US, North
American and European scientific and immunological societies, AND will ALWAYS
remain open to our AAI colleagues. We will also continue to illustrate US interested
scientists about their rights to travel to scientific meetings in Cuba, and provide them
with help through the AAAS and other institutions committed to support and stimulate
the free exchange of science and culture.
Finally, just let me finish reminding everybody that this is a Latin American
Immunology Congress, and if some scientists from other places of the World do not feel
encouraged to travel to Cuba, which is totally open to receive them, or are imposed unjust
travel restrictions by their governments, we will still have a lot to show and discuss in
Havana ALAI 2002, surely enough to enlighten many future experimental years.