Cuba Research Forum 2010

News from Cuba | Friday, 10 September 2010

Compiled by Maria Castro

This year’s Cuba Research Forum Annual Conference took place at the University of Nottingham from the 6th to the 8th of September; next year it will be celebrated in Cuba. The conference’s extensive programme covered social and cultural issues, history and science, with a special panel on Psychology in Cuba chaired by Dr Steve Melluish (University of Leicester), which counted with the contributions of three psychologists from Cuba joined by two other UK-based colleagues.

From the Universidad de La Habana, Dr Roberto Corral opened the panel with his presentation: The development of psychology in Cuba in the revolutionary era (since 1959). He described the socio-political, cultural and inter-disciplinary contexts that served as the foundation for popular and free of charge psychological services, scientific psychological research and training. Psychology developed alongside (and as an intrinsic part of) the project of the revolution, in response to practical problems encountered. Internal interests focused psychological practice on quality of life, the support of developments in education and health, and funding of scientific research, publications and events. Although in the early stages soviet psychology provided the theoretical bases, by the 1980’s influences from Latin America were felt, which allowed an autonomous, indigenous psychological knowledge to develop and consolidate in Cuba, in conjunction with the creation of universities and training for psychology professionals.

The development of Health Psychology in Cuba, presented by MSc Neysa Domínguez Suárez, from the Universidad de Ciencias Médicas de Holguín, took place after the triumph of the revolution of 1959 due to its health policy. The main goals of free access, community participation and internationalism developed within a scientific approach to health psychology that was part of the much larger social project. The structural and functional changes brought by the revolution to health and education guaranteed universities and training (also free of charge) of health psychologists, who mainly engage in lifespan individual and collective -attention for individuals, families and communities throughout the life stages- health promotion and disease prevention across the full range of health services, including, for example, very special attention during pregnancy. Today, in Cuba, 80% of health problems get attention at primary care level through the médico de la familia (local family doctors) and Policlínicos (Poly-clinics).

MSc Aida Torralbas Fernández, from the Universidad de Holguín, introduced the delicate topic of Gender violence against women. Whilst gender-specific studies are very new to the profession of psychology in Cuba, psychological research is striving to be open to the knowledge of interdisplinary studies. With the understanding that the psychotherapeutic relationship is permeated by power-dynamics, where the dimension of gender is relevant, Msc Aida Torralbas Fernández has had an interest in researching psychologists’ training (in Holguín) in relation to the subject of gender in their own professional practice. This she highlighted as particularly important in the context of the andro-centrism of psychology. Assumptions about gender-related roles and practices of a society are inevitably held in the symbolic subjectivity of its individuals, which includes psychologists, thus, an inward look in the profession becomes necessary.

From the University of East London, Dr Maria Castro reflected on the importance of contextualisation in meaning-making processes. The presentations by our Cuban colleagues made explicit aspects of their particular frames of reference for consideration in getting closer understandings of psychology in Cuba and, at a macro level, of Cuba. First, psychology in Cuba finds its theoretical roots in the USSR and Latin America. Secondly, revolutionary programmes of attention, including psychological provision, focus on health promotion and are both integral (multidisciplinary) and multi-level. Third, the embodiment of the unity of individual-collective (we only exist in-relation) allows contextualised knowledges, evident in the psychological sophistication of the Cuban people. A very different backdrop to psychology in the UK, exchanges during training (and beyond) would afford invaluable learnings for us, towards community psychology theory and practice.

Dr Mark Burton (Manchester Metropolitan) pointed to the current domination of decontextualised and individualistic approaches in psychology in the UK, which typifies the problems of a discipline inextricably linked to the capitalist world-view. Psychology in socialist Cuba holds clues about a more adequate psychological praxis not beholden to Capital and the State under capitalism. Cuban psychology has always been eclectic, using whatever is useful from various sources. This is exemplified by the programme for developmentally impaired persons and their families run by Maritza García, and colleagues from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Havana, who use an inclusive, flexible and creative bricolage of approaches. The experience of psychology in Cuba since 1959 tells us something about Cuba as a society and about psychology as a discipline but also as a possibility; Cuban psychological practice, societally situated as it is, does indicate that another psychology is possible, just as another world is possible.

The Conference also hosted the Celebrating Cuba: 50 years of revolution exhibition, 50 photographs by Cuban photographer Alejandro Gortazar, commissioned by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, celebrating Cuba's achievements and its people, and counted with a closing discourse from the artist.

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