LAS/Plan II Undergraduate Receives Prestigious University Award
Posted: May 14, 2008
Amelia Ruiz Fischer received a major university award for her senior thesis, “Sinking Jimmy’s Ship: The Mariel Boatlift and the Re-rupture of U.S.-Cuban Relations.”
Amelia was among seven undergraduate students from the entire University of Texas who received a George H. Mitchell Student Award for Academic Excellence from the University Co-operative Society. The award, presented by President William Powers and Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl, includes a $2,000 fellowship. Jonathan Brown, Professor of History and Associate Director of LLILAS, advised Amelia in her senior research project. She had enrolled in his undergraduate research seminar, in which she wrote her final paper on the relationship between the United States and Cuban dictator General Fulgencio Batista while the revolution that eventually displaced him was raging. Her paper earned the highest grade in a class of eighteen students. She subsequently took Brown’s lecture course on the Mexican Revolution. Because of Amelia’s successes in his courses, Brown asked her to serve as his undergraduate research assistant under a new Liberal Arts program. Amelia searched through revolutionary newspapers for information on Fidel Castro’s struggle against the counterrevolution that the CIA had sponsored from 1961 to 1965 and contributed notes for a book Brown is writing on the subject. She demonstrated her distinct advantage as an undergraduate investigator: an ability to do original research in Spanish.
Because of her previous interest in questions of emigration from Latin America to the United States, Amelia developed her own research project on the 1980 Mariel Boatlift. She examines the boatlift in terms of the negotiations between the Carter Administration and Revolutionary Cuba that had held out the promise of a renewal of diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961. But the U.S. negotiators had wanted Castro to end his support for socialist governments in Africa, where Cuba had sent troops. Castro refused to withdraw them as a price of U.S. recognition because, at the time, they were fighting against the forces of the apartheid regime of South Africa. This dispute formed the backdrop of the Mariel Boatlift, Amelia surmises, and explains Fidel’s motivation to escalate an internal Cuban crisis into an international incident and a political embarrassment for President Jimmy Carter as the 1980 presidential election approached.
Amelia achieved research success because she decided to go directly to the best source of information—she applied for undergraduate research funds to travel to the Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. Documents of the Carter administration have not yet found publication in the Foreign Relations of the United States series nor are they available on the Internet. Therefore, in order to do justice to her inquiry, Amelia needed to go to Atlanta to consult the originals in the Carter Presidential Library. A Liberal Arts research grant for undergraduate students funded Amelia’s trip in December 2007. Therefore, her reliance almost entirely on original documentation set “Sinking Jimmy’s Ship” apart from other undergraduate research projects and drew the notice of the Mitchell Award committee.