March 8, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
In late January of this year, Professor and Deputy Chair of the BMCC business department, Carmen Leonor Martínez-López, presented a paper in The Third International Conference for World Balance.
The conference was sponsored by UNESCO, through the José Martí Project of World Solidarity, and was held in Havana, Cuba.
“I was there in 1992 and after 20 years, Havana is changing for the better; the energy is different,” she says. “People are doing many things with very few resources, and by using their creativity.”
She gives an example: “The people of Cuba have many personal electronics, such as iPads and smart phones, and now you see a number of small businesses appearing, to repair those electronics. People who start these businesses train themselves by reading a lot on the Internet, and also they attend vocational institutions within Cuba, that prepare them with technical skills.”
Fighting poverty with education
This movement toward innovative training and entrepreneurism would have pleased the conference sponsor’s namesake, José Julián Martí Pérez (1853 –1895), who advocated for education as a tool for fighting poverty throughout the Americas.
José Martí was also a writer whose poetry, essays, translations and journalism ushered in the modernist tradition in Latin American letters. An impassioned revolutionary, he opposed U.S. expansionism into Cuba and died in battle, fighting for Cuba’s liberation from Spanish colonial rule.
Dr. Martínez-López’s paper, Education for All: The Past and Present of José Martí’s Ideas, “demonstrates how José Martí’s thoughts on higher education are a reality that some countries of the America’s hemisphere are confronting today,” she says.
Her research applies evidence from the United States and Colombia, she adds, “focusing on issues related to the interaction of the university with the business sector, and the role governments perform in the process of preparing a productive population.”
“In my business classes, one of the concepts I teach is social responsibility, which is defined as a business’s commitment to its stakeholders,” she explains. “According to this theory, businesses are accountable for their economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic performance.”
These issues, she says, “are related to José Martí’s philosophy of education for all the citizens of a nation, whether they are rich or poor, and a sustainable world in all aspects related to humans and our planet.”
The changing focus of higher education in Cuba reflects Martí’s philosophy, Martínez-López says.
“People have begun to realize that while there are many professionals in Cuba, such as lawyers and engineers, those professionals are driving taxis. So now there is an emphasis on helping people attain skills that actually result in employment in their field.”
Also, she says, “Cuba is doing a great job developing their tourism industry, and attracting visitors from Latin American— Brazil, Argentina, Chile—as well as from Canada and Europe.”
Restrictions on U.S. visitors
According to Professor Martínez-López, visitors to Cuba from the United States are subject to stricter limits than most.
“They must be journalists or professionals whose travel is related to academic research or who are attending a conference in Cuba,” she says.
An official travel affidavit from her trip adds that if those full-time professionals are attending a conference, it must not be a conference focused on commercial activities, such as those related to tourism or biotechnological products.
Compliance to these restrictions is well worth the effort, Martínez-López says.
“Havana is a beautiful, historic city. UNESCO is investing in the renovation of the city and also the Brazilian government and others are investing in the development there. It is a country and a people that are growing in many ways.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For students interested in learning more about the legacy of José Martí in education today, Professor Martínez-López’s conference presentation will be published with UNESCO’s support and made available through the BMCC library.