Diplomatic Challenges and Opportunities for U.S. Cuban Relations

Event Date: October 15, 2020 Event Time: 7:00 p.m. via Zoom Presenter: Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis

On July 20, 2015, a little more than five years ago, the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations after more than 55 years of acrimony. It was a victory for diplomacy, sanity and American interests and values, hailed throughout the region and the world. It did not last long. Today, government to government communication is minimal, with a cascade of new sanctions and harsh rhetoric from Washington. Career diplomat Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis was dispatched to Cuba in 2014 to build a new embassy and relationship and rode the diplomatic roller coaster until mid-2017 when a new American administration dramatically changed course. What happened and why? DeLaurentis has a lot to say about the challenges of forging a new beginning with Cuba in the best interest of the United States, about what worked and what did not, and about those who question the merits of sustaining such a relationship. He will explore why we need to rebuild the relationship through diplomacy, dialogue and principled disagreement.

Ambassador (ret.) Jeffrey DeLaurentis is a Distinguished Resident Fellow in Latin American Studies, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, and Senior Adviser, Albright Stonebridge Group.

During his 28-year career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis worked almost exclusively on Western Hemisphere issues and as a multilateral diplomat at the United Nations. He served as the first Charge d’Affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Havana following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, and as a principal negotiator for the many agreements concluded and dialogues launched between the two countries until January 2017. Prior to taking up his Cuba post in August 2014, he was the Ambassador for Special Political Affairs at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Previously, he served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere.

DeLaurentis, a graduate of the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service and Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, is a recipient of multiple State Department awards. He began his State Department career in 1991 as a consular officer in Havana and returned to Cuba as Political-Economic Section Chief in 1999-2002. In Washington, DeLaurentis served as the Chief of Staff to the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Director of Inter-American Affairs at the National Security Council. His last assignment in the Foreign Service was at the Harvard Kennedy School as a Senior Diplomatic Fellow. He recently completed a fellowship at Columbia University and is a non-resident Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Cuba Studies Program.


The Saudi-Iranian Rivalry and the New Middle East Cold War

Event Date: September 9, 2020

Event Time: 7:00 p.m. via Zoom

Presenter: Dr. Gregory Gause, Texas A&M University

Saudi Arabia and Iran are contesting for influence across the Middle East, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and the Gulf. Their contest is often framed as a sectarian fight, Sunni v. Shia. But the roots of the conflict have more to do with domestic political crises across the Arab world and old-fashioned balance of power politics. This presentation will look at the causes of the new Middle East Cold War and how other parties, along with Saudi Arabia and Iran, play into it.

F. Gregory Gause, III is Professor of International Affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University. His research focuses on the international politics of the Middle East, particularly the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, and American foreign policy toward the region.

Previously Dr. Gause taught at the University of Vermont (1995-2014) and Columbia University (1987-1995) and was Fellow for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York(1993-1994). In 2009 he was a Fulbright Scholar at the American University in Kuwait and in 2010 was a research fellow in Saudi Arabia.

Gause has published three books, most recently The International Relations of the Persian Gulf. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs and other journals and edited volumes. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1987.



The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a serious risk to public health. It has resulted in Governor Pritzker’s executive order to “shelter in place” and practice “social distancing” to reduce infections including the CDC’s guideline to limit indoor events to 10 people. Thus, the World Affairs Council of Central Illinois had to postpone the March-April Great Decisions program series, as well as the April and May programs to be rescheduled in the next program year.The next scheduled program will be in September. Check the website for program information and the September newsletter around mid to late August.

Public Health Issues in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Focus on Ghana

Event Date: March 5

Presenter: Dr.(Mrs.) Victoria Bam

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

Location: Public Affairs Center (PAC), University of Illinois, Springfield

Reception and Dinner: PAC Dining Room

Program: Brookens Auditorium

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

Africa has the world’s highest rate of death from preventable diseases, despite progress made over the last two decades. What are the causes of the premature deaths and disabilities that rob African nations of their human
resources and affect their productivity and economic growth? Why do many children die before the age of five? Why do some pregnant women not deliver in health facilities? Why does Ghana have so many injuries, and who are the most affected by this and with what consequences? Dr. Bam’s talk will explore the links between public health and development; major reasons for ill health, disabilities, and deaths in Africa; public health issues in Ghana and that country’s health system; as well as strategies and challenges in attaining universal health coverage.

Ghana has had ten years of developing its emergency health care system with the support of United States institutions. Dr. Bam’s talk will highlight the success story of this US Ghana partnership.

Dr. (Mrs.) Victoria Bam is a senior lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana, and a Fulbright Scholar in Residence at Millikin University, Decatur, Illinois. She holds a BSc. (Hons) degree in Nursing from the University of Ghana, Accra, and a Ph.D. in Community Health.

She is a registered nurse and a foundation fellow of the Ghana College of Nurses and Midwives. Dr. Bam’s teaching areas include Public Health Nursing, and Leadership and Management in Nursing. She has held the position of Head of the Department of Nursing at KNUST and served as Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Allied Health Sciences, KNUST. She has authored a number of peer-reviewed publications from her research and collaborative work. Her main research interest is in public health interventions in maternal and child health and emergency care.

Measles: An International Perspective

Event Date: February 4

Presenters: Dr. Marcela Rodriguez, Dr. Sana Waqar, and Dr. Vidhya

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

Location: Club Room, Hoogland Center for the Arts

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

The speakers will review the epidemiology of measles–the scientific study of this disease and how it is found, spread, and controlled in groups of people, in the U.S. and globally. Their discussion will include—

• Data on incidence, prevalence, risk factors, transmission, and global control measures.

• The clinical presentation of measles, from the incubation period to stages of infection, including variants and complications.

• Treatment options and prevention; vaccination strategies and efficacy.

• The history of measles vaccination in the United States, including recent measles outbreaks and how they are tied to resistance to vaccination.

• The historical and cultural aspects of the anti-vaccination movement as it relates to measles.

Dr. Marcela Rodriguez is an Associate Professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases faculty at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. Her other roles include Leader of the Pediatric Antimicrobial Stewardship program at St. John’s Children’s Hospital. Dr. Rodriguez graduated from medical school in Cali, Colombia. She completed a pediatric residency at Southern Illinois University in 2008 and a Pediatric Infectious Diseases Fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in 2011. She joined the SIU faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in 2011. In 2016, she completed a Master’s Degree in PublicHealth at University of Illinois, Springfield. Dr. Rodriguez’s academic interest is in antimicrobial stewardship. She has developed multiple antibiotic protocols that are now
used at St John’s Children’s Hospital. She has a passion for teaching medical students and residents.
Dr. Sana Waqar is an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine and a member of the Infectious Diseases faculty at the SIU School of Medicine. She graduated medical school from the Aga Khan University, Pakistan in 2008. Dr. Waqar completed her Internal Medicine residency and Infectious Disease fellowship at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her other roles include Associate Program Director for the Infectious Disease fellowship and Unit Director for the Hematology, Immunology and Infectious Disease Unit for Second Year medical students. Dr. Waqar has a special interest in medical education, antimicrobial stewardship, infection prevention, and vaccine-preventable diseases.

Dr. Vidhya Prakash is an associate professor in the Department of Medicine and a member of the Infectious Diseases faculty. Her other roles include Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs and associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency training program. Dr. Prakash is founder and director of SIU Medicine’s Alliance for Women in Medicine and Science (AWIMS). She graduated from the Ohio State University in 2000 and from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 2004. Through the HPSP (Health Professions Scholarship Program), Dr. Prakash joined the United States Air Force and completed an Internal Medicine residency at the San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium (SAUSHEC) in 2007, followed by an Infectious Diseases fellowship training at SAUSHEC in 2009. She joined SIU School of Medicine in 2014. Dr. Prakash has a passion for teaching and topics salient to women in medicine and science.

“The Importance of Diplomacy”

Event Date: December 4

Presenter: Ms. Kathy Johnson

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

Location: Club Room, Hoogland Center for the Arts

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

Ms. Kathy A. Johnson’s presentation will be on “The
Importance of Diplomacy”. She will take us behind the scenes
of diplomacy to look at how diplomacy really works, what
diplomats do, and how diplomacy benefits Americans.
Ms. Johnson is a thirty-one-year former career member
of the U.S. Foreign Service (ret). She was the Director of
the United States Diplomacy Center (2014-2017), the first
museum and education center in the United States dedicated
to telling the story of American diplomacy. She led the Center
team from ground-breaking to opening of this award-winning new museum, including the design and launch of an innovative nation-wide education program on diplomacy.

As Management Counselor, Ms. Johnson managed operations for U.S. Mission Australia (2011-2014), the U.S. Embassy and three Consulates General. As Diplomat in Residence in Chicago (2010-2011), she advised and spoke on a variety of diplomatic issues. As Foreign Policy Advisor to the Commanding General of USTRANSCOM (2007-2010), she advised the Commander and worked with U.S. embassies in Europe and Central Asia to successfully negotiate air, land and sea transit agreements. This enabled
the U.S. Department of Defense to bring supplies to our troops in Afghanistan via intermodal routes saving U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars in transportation fees.

Ms. Johnson was selected for a prestigious corporate fellowship to serve as the Foreign Policy Advisor to the Exxon Chad Pipeline Project in Houston, Texas. She led team-building and organizational development for team members from seven multinational corporations and advised teams on interactions with host governments, tribes and villagers. Her other overseas assignments with the Department of State included Syria, Mexico, Austria, and Poland, as well as policy formulation and management in
Washington, D.C.

Ms. Johnson is currently working as an independent consultant and the CEO of the Veterans Memorial Foundation. She is the recipient of numerous Department of State Superior and Meritorious Honor Awards, the Department of Defense Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Civilian Award and Defense Transportation Industry Award for the Northern Distribution Network, as well as Industry awards for the design and construction
of the U.S. Diplomacy Center. Ms. Johnson is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Aurora College, with a B.A. degree in History, a M.A. degree in National Security Strategy from the Air War College and an M.B.A. from Texas A&M University.

“Terror Capitalism: Uyghur ‘Reeducation’ and the Chinese Security Industrial Complex”

Event Date: November 8

Presenter: Dr. Darren Byler

Location: Brookens Auditorium, University of Illinois at Springfield

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

Terror Capitalism represents a new system of control by the Chinese government. It is made up of a multi-billion dollar industry of computer- vision technologies, militarized policing, and the mass mobilization of Chinese civil servants and Han industrialists. Its purpose is to transform Uyghur and other Turkic minority societies in Northwest China.

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in the Uyghur region, Dr. Byler’s presentation will focus on the history which produced these forms of surveillance and their effects in Uyghur society. He argues that this system of “reeducation” is, in fact, a social engineering system that works in concert with a Chinese form of illiberal capitalism.

As this system is implemented, it has the effect of partitioning and radically disempowering those already marginalized within political systems. These new automated forms of surveillance, coercive Han-centric education systems, as well as new modes of state-enforced capitalist discipline amplify the power of those who engineer and implement these systems. It results in the disintegration of minority social systems.

Dr. Darren Byler received his PhD from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Washington in 2018. His research focuses on Uyghur dispossession, culture work and “terror capitalism” in the city of Ürümchi, the capital of Chinese Central Asia (Xinjiang). Professor Byler has published research articles in the Asia-Pacific Journal, Contemporary Islam, Central Asian Survey, and the Journal of Chinese Contemporary Art. He also has contributed essays to volumes on ethnography of Islam in China, transnational Chinese cinema and travel and representation. Professor Byler has provided expert testimony on Uyghur human rights issues before the Canadian House of Commons and writes a regular column on these issues for Sup China. In addition, he has published Uyghur-English literary translations (with Mutellip Enwer) in Guernica and Paper Republic. He also writes and curates the digital humanities art and politics repository, “The Art of Life in Chinese Central Asia”, which is hosted at livingotherwise.com.

The United States and Latin America:Challenges and Opportunities

Event Date: October 10

Location: Brookens Auditorium, University of Illinois at Springfield

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

Ambassador John F. Maisto’s presentation on “The United States and Latin America: Challenges and Opportunities” will explore current U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. He will place special emphasis on U.S.- Venezuelan relations and U.S. diplomatic relations with several Central American nations.

Ambassador Maisto will also serve as the keynote speaker for the Midwest Association for Latin American Studies(MALAS) conference, which will be held at the University of Illinois Springfield the following days, October 11-12.

John F. Maisto, Ambassador (ret.) is a thirty-seven year former career member of the U.S. Foreign Service. He was Ambassador to Nicaragua (1993-1996), Venezuela (1997- 2000), and the Organization of American States (2003-2006). He was Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council and, concurrently, Special Assistant to the President, 2001 to 2003. He was Foreign Policy Adviser at the U.S. Southern Command, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Central America, and he served in Argentina, Bolivia, CostaRica, Panama, and the Philippines.

Maisto writes and speaks on Western Hemisphere issues; U.S. foreign policy; Southeast Asia and the Philippines; trade, investment and growth; democratic transitions; international organization issues; security and defense matters; and international education.

A graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, he has a Master’s Degree in Latin American History from San Carlos University, Guatemala.

A Tribute to Syria

Event Date: September 10

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

Location: Brookens Auditorium, University of Illinois at Springfield

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

Mariela Shaker strives to build understanding and nurture peace through her discourse and her music. She will inform us with her words and her music about the plight of Syrian refugees and the families that are left behind in violent war-torn Syria.

She will also describe an odyssey that begins with a harrowing escape from Aleppo, continues with obstacles surmounted to acquire her music education at Monmouth College and follows with performances at the Kennedy Center, in the White House, and for the queen of Jordan. She would like those hearing her story to reflect on their own life journey.

Born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1990, Mariela began her study of the violin at age nine. For five years, she taught violin at the Arabic Institute of Music in Aleppo, after which she furthered her musical studies in London. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Aleppo University and also from Monmouth College, which she attended on a full scholarship. Mariela Shaker has appeared as a concert soloist at engagements across the world and as a moving speaker about the refugee experience.

The European Union and Its Neighborhood

Event Date: May 9

Reception 5:30 p.m.; Annual Meeting 6:00 p.m.; Dinner 6:15 p.m.; Program 7:30 p.m.

Location: Club Room, Hoogland Center for the Arts

Speaker: Konstantinos Kourtikakis, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

All programs are free and open to the public. Dinners require a reservation.

The European Union is surrounded by countries with political and economic systems that do not conform to its values in two important ways. First, while the EU supports democracy and good governance, most
of its neighbors in North Africa and Eastern Europe have embraced authoritarianism, despite occasional outbursts of democratic movements, such as the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine or the Arab Spring. And second, while the EU relies on the principles of the free market economy, many of its neighbors pursue economic policies that significantly distort market competition for political purposes.

The EU actively seeks to reduce these differences with neighboring countries by promoting pro-democracy and pro-free market reforms in its foreign policy. In this talk, Dr. Kourtikakis examines two types of foreign policy action the EU takes in this regard. The first is reaching out directly to governments with formal agreements that include penalties and rewards in exchange for reforms. And the second is providing technical support to government agencies, the civil society and business organizations, with the aim of helping them adopt democratic and free market norms and practices.

Dr. Kourtikakis is Teaching Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with a specialization in comparative and international politics. He also holds affiliations with the European Union Center and the Center for Global Studies. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007, and his BA in European and International Economics and Politics from the University of Macedonia, in Greece, in 1997. His teaching and research interests revolve around the European Union and its external relations. His research examines the role of business and civil society networks in relations between the EU and its “international partners”, particularly the countries of Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and most recently in EU-US relations.