Monday, February 23, 2009

Memo on Educational Travel

Statements in support of educational travel to Cuba:

At peak, 84,500 Americans who were not of Cuban origin traveled to Cuba in 2003 for a wide variety of educational, cultural, sports and people to people exchanges. For domestic political reasons, the Bush administration choked off most of this non-tourist travel in 2004.

The case for the Obama Administration modifying or ending restrictions on travel to Cuba has been made by many educational, business, travel, humanitarian, think-tank and advocacy groups. Those of most direct relevance to travel educators are from

* 13 academic, business, NGO and advocacy organizations (initiated by NAFSA)
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Friends Service Committee
Church World Service
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Latin America Working Group
Latin American Studies Association
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Foreign Trade Council
Operation USA
Social Science Research Council
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
Washington Office on Latin America

* American Society of Travel Agents

* American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)

* Summit of 37 travel and tourism industry leaders (organized by the National Tour Association) urged President Obama, "Adopt as policy that the citizens of the United States should be free to travel the globe without artificial restrictions placed on them by their own government."

Links to other civil society statements including recommendations from the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Cuba Study Group can be found here:

Two paths to educational travel:

1) President Obama can use his existing authority to authorize a wide range of educational programs, as existed until 2003.

If qualified persons and institutions receive a general license (as has been available to journalists, professional researchers, and Cuban Americans) the cumbersome, costly and time-consuming application process will be eliminated.

2) Congress can pass a law to end all restrictions on travel for every US person and institution..

  • Identical bills in the House and Senate provide Freedom of Travel for all Americans.   
  • The more likely legislative vehicle is a bill that merges the Freedom of Travel text with provisions to facilitate agricultural sales to Cuba.

Time line:

The President could allow educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian and other forms of non-tourist travel at any moment. The Congress could end all travel restrictions at any time but the normal legislative process of collecting co-sponsors, sub-committee and committee hearings and mark-up, and floor debate could last until summer or even the fall, and might be delayed until after the mid-term elections.

How to prepare:

Schools and organizations that sent groups to Cuba before the Bush shut-down of 2004 should renew contact with their partners in Havana. Those with a new interest should consult with the Fund for Reconciliation and Development to receive an update on the evolving legal situation and an introduction to the most appropriate Cuban agency authorized to organize programs for Americans: Amistur, Havanatur, or San Cristobol.

How to make it possible:

If you have access to members of the Obama administration, please impress upon them how important it is for your institution for the President to provide a general license to the twelve categories of non-tourist travel as soon as possible.

Call or write your Representative and Senators asking them to cosponsor HR and S. At the same time, ask them to urge the President to start the ball rolling with non-tourist travel.

Write an opinion article for school or community newspapers, professional journals, web pages and blogs that describe the kind of program with Cuba that you plan to organize when the Administration and/or Congress change US policy.

Let FRD know the response you receive from Congress and please send us your published articles.

Web resources:

Official tourism portal

Cuba Tourist Board Canada

Sol Melia video

Retreat from Reason: U.S.-Cuban Academic Relations and the Bush Administration
Written by an international team of U.S. and Cuban scholars, examines the history of and regulations on academic, scientific, and cultural exchange between the United States and Cuba that were largely stopped in 2004.

FRD Right to Travel newsletter