Clarissa Ibarra

  • Fellowship year:2021-2022
  • University: University of California at Berkeley
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: International and Global
  • Dissertation Title: Revolutionary Experiments: Cuban-Soviet Scientific Exchange, 1959-1980
  • My dissertation project examines the political and cultural relationship between Cuba and the Soviet Union, from 1959 to 1980. Specifically, it asks, “How was Cuba able to secure so much aid from the Soviet Union and simultaneously avoid dependency?” In order to answer this question, I examine the greatest form of Soviet aid to Cuba — scientific exchange. Tracing Cuban-Soviet scientific exchange reveals both countries’ competing approaches to nationalism, socialism, and developmentalism – key concepts that upheld Fidel’s revolutionary project. The dissertation necessarily takes a transnational approach, following Cuban and Russian experts across the over 9,500 kilometers between Havana and Moscow, as they established an academic and intellectual network over the course of the Cuban Revolution and the Cold War.

    The Cuban Revolution of 1959 sought to rid Cuba of imperialist intervention and foreign control over the island’s natural resources, informed by the legacies of Spanish colonialism and later US neocolonialism. Many Cubans saw the expanding Cuban-Soviet relationship as a dangerous step towards the past. Specifically, Cuban scientists learned to navigate the discourse of the Soviet Union as "generous socialist brother” while in practice remaining aware of the Soviet Union’s potential as a self-interested patron. Cuban-Soviet scientific exchange, especially in the natural sciences, encapsulates the Cuban-Soviet relationship as a whole: united by a similar political ideology, but constantly at odds over what “good socialist development” (i.e., “good socialism”) should look like. By focusing on Cuba’s scientific contributions to the Soviet Union and the then-called “Third World,” the dissertation foregrounds Cuban ingenuity and intellectual sovereignty, recovering Cuban voices in the island’s Cold War history.