Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Governor Richardson Interviewed in Havana

Andrea Mitchell of MSNBC



MITCHELL: Cuba is preparing to release six more political prisoners, just as the Obama administration is poised to ease some travel restrictions to the communist nation.

Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is in Havana right now for a trade mission for New Mexico, and joins us live from there. It's great to see you, Governor. Thanks so much. Great to see that backdrop there. We have been there so often and hope to visit again.

Let's talk about what you are hearing in Havana as to, first of all, whether or not there will be other prisoners released. This has been a negotiation between the Cuban government and the archdiocese there.

RICHARDSON: Well, this is good news that more were released. There's a total of 32 out of the 56. These are very positive steps that were negotiated by President Raul Castro and the Catholic Church and the Spanish foreign minister.

You know, this is good because it shows movement on the human rights issue, which is very important. At the same time, I am here not as an administration envoy. I'm trying to sell chili, salsa, green chili to the Cuban government. And I have two more days here in my visit.

But I think this is good news. These are positive steps that Cuba is taking, and that should be acknowledged.

MITCHELL: Do you think it will be acknowledged shortly by the White House? There's a lot of talk about the political blowback if the president takes further steps and reverts to basically what was in place during Bill Clinton's administration, which was that normal Americans could have cultural exchanges, could travel, not just Cuban Americans.

The restrictions, of course, were put under George W. Bush. Do you think that they should take that step and should they do it sooner rather than later?

RICHARDSON: Well, I would recommend that the administration take those steps sooner rather than later. I know they're considering it. Those are good steps. They're steps that send a message that we're easing up on travel restrictions, that educational, religious leaders will be permitted to travel like we had under President Clinton. These are confidence-building steps that I think make sense; that it's in the interest of the United States.

I've long advocated that we take the travel ban off of Americans. I don't think the embargo is working either.
But as I said, my main mission here is a trade mission on behalf of my state, but I will be speaking to high officials in the Cuban government in the next couple of days and I'm sure a lot of these issues will come up.

MITCHELL: Are you also going to be pushing for the release of a jailed American, a USAID employee who has been subject to charges down there, Alan Gross?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes. The Obama administration has asked me to raise this. I intend to do that. This is Alan Gross, who I believe is somebody that should be released. But that's a decision the Cuban government is going to make. Yes, I will press on that, but at the same time, again, I'm -- I'm here as the governor of New Mexico. I know many of these Cuban officials. Hopefully, this release will happen sometime soon.

But this is an important part of the relations, confidence- building measures on both sides -- the Cubans releasing 56 prisoners of conscience, going to various countries -- Spain, others. Those are good steps.
And this American is a contractor. He's a very good man. I've talked to his wife. It's a humanitarian case, purely humanitarian that I believe he should be released. But this is at a time when I sense the American-Cuban relationship is improving, and I think these confidence-building steps are good -- the travel on our side, if it happens, and hopefully it will, and then the Cubans taking these human rights steps and releasing prisoners.

So I sense a better atmosphere in the American-Cuban relationship, which has been very contentious for the last few years.

MITCHELL: Governor, do you expect to see Fidel Castro who we saw publicly at the National Assembly meeting giving a speech, looking as though he is stronger than ever and speaking out on foreign policy and some of the issues that you care about deeply.

RICHARDSON: Well, it's not on the schedule. I'm going to see a number of high officials, but that's not on the schedule and, you know, I'm not a head of state. I don't expect that. Again, Andrea, my trip is a trade mission, but I know a lot of people here and I believe the relationship should be improved. I hope the administration does move ahead with those easing of the travel restrictions, possibly others. I think that makes a lot of sense. It's good for the United States.

We need to get involved here. There's enormous potential for investment, but easing the travel ban is a way that Americans of all stripes, of all types can -- can visit the island. President Clinton did that. It moved in a good way the relationship. And hopefully, this will happen soon by the Obama administration. But like you, I've just seen these press reports, and again my hope is that they happen soon -- in fact before I leave; that would be very nice.

MITCHELL: Speaking of your travel, because I've traveled with you in the past. We went to Pyongyang and you had an unofficial emissary role there. Jimmy Carter is traveling to North Korea trying to get an American, a Boston citizen out of prison after he's been sentenced to eight years. What do you think the prospects are? You know exactly what former President Carter is up against there.

RICHARDSON: Well, I believe it's a good move by the administration, if it is the case. I've only seen reports. President Carter is very well thought of in North Korea, and this is an American, Mr. Gomes, who is not well. His health right now is not good. And again, it's a humanitarian issue. It doesn't involve the nuclear talks. It doesn't involve other differences that we have with North Korea and the peninsula.

So my hope is that President Carter can secure the release. It's going to be pretty hard to say no to a former president. So I'm encouraged, but you never know with the North Koreans. I've learned not to predict anything, but I'm glad the administration is considering this step by President Carter because he's well thought of. He went there in the '90s and was able to negotiate a nuclear agreement that was later ratified by the Clinton administration.

I know he's well thought of. I think it's an important step because this young man, an American, deserves to come home and he's -- he's not well. And this would be a humanitarian effort that hopefully will succeed.

MITCHELL: All right. So good to see you again, Governor Bill Richardson in Havana. Thanks so much.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

MITCHELL: And thanks to everybody who helped arrange that interview today.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

The President's Legal Authority to Enable Non-tourist Travel

Law Offices of
Robert L. Muse
1320 19th Street, N.W., Suite M-2
Washington D.C. 20036

Telephone: 202-887-4990
Facsimile: 202-861-6912

August 24, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President:

It has been widely reported that you intend to restore the people-to-people travel to Cuba conceived and implemented by the Clinton Administration in 1999 and subsequently terminated by President Bush in 2003. On August 20, 2010 several members of Congress wrote to you to “draw your attention to pertinent provisions of U.S. law” and to express the opinion that the restoration of people-to-people travel “could run contrary to statutory requirements and prohibitions.” This letter rebuts that contention and reaffirms, as a matter of law, your foreign policy prerogative to restore the educational and cultural travel to Cuba commonly referred to as people-to-people travel.

The Arguments Made by the Opponents of the Reported Changes in the Cuba Travel Relations

The signatories of the August 20 letter make two points. First, they claim expanded travel to Cuba could violate “the statutory requirements in Helms-Burton pertaining to the continuation of the economic embargo on Cuba.” Their second argument is that the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA) prohibits travel to Cuba for tourism, which is true. However, while somewhat vague on the point, their letter goes on to suggest that any expansion of travel to Cuba for educational or cultural purposes (i.e. people-to-people travel) would violate TSRA’s prohibition on tourism, which is untrue.

The Helms-Burton Act’s Attempt at Codification of the U.S. Embargo on Cuba

The August 20 letter cites the Helms-Burton Act’s provision that the embargo on Cuba shall remain in effect until a transition or democratically elected government is in power in that country. However, the Helms-Burton Act leaves it to the president to determine the specific elements of that embargo.

Section 201(h) of the Helms-Burton Act states:
“Codification of Economics Embargo. – The economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996, including all restrictions under part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, shall be in effect upon the enactment of this Act, and shall remain in effect, subject to section 204 of the Act.”

The Helms-Burton Act’s codification of the embargo codifying the Cuban regulations verbatim – including 31 C.F.R 515.201, which says: “All transactions [involving Cuba] are prohibited except as specifically authorized by the Secretary of the Treasury… by means of regulations, rulings, [and] licenses.”

The Helms-Burton Act of 1996 therefore left untouched the Executive Branch’s authority to modify the embargo on Cuba by (i) promulgating new regulations, or (ii) issuing specific licenses permitting new activities involving Cuba, or, (iii) generally licensing hitherto prohibited dealings with that country. Proof that this was the case was provided in January, 1999 when the Clinton Administration created a new category of approved travel to Cuba by authorizing specific licenses for “people-to-people” educational visits to that country. No joint resolution disapproving that action followed from the same Republican-controlled Congress that passed the Helms-Burton legislation three years earlier. Nor will a restoration, by your administration, of people-to-people travel result in a joint resolution of disapproval, notwithstanding the implied threat of such action that appears at page two of the letter of August 20. As a cursory reading of section 204(a) of the Act reveals, a joint resolution of Congress can be triggered only by a general suspension of the embargo on Cuba following notification of such to specified congressional committees. It cannot be triggered by the exercise of the licensing authority entrusted to the president by Congress when it codified the embargo on Cuba in section 201 of the Helms-Burton Act.

The Peculiar Problem of Travel Restrictions

Section 910 of TSRA provides that the Treasury Department may not authorize travel to Cuba for what the statute terms “touristic activities.” The statute goes on to define the term “touristic activities” to mean travel not “expressly authorized in any of paragraphs (1) through (12) of Section §515.560 [of the CACR]” as that regulation was in effect on June 1, 2000. As a result of Section 910 of TSRA, the general ban on U.S. citizens’ travel to Cuba cannot be rescinded by the Executive Branch. But people-to-people travel to Cuba may be re-instated by presidential action because that category of authorized travel was one of the twelve in existence on June 1, 2000 when the travel regulations were codified by TSRA. It is therefore exempt from the prohibitions of that codification.

Resumption of People-to-People Travel

Because of OFAC’s prohibition on “self-directed educational activities,” holders of §515.565(b)(2) people-to-people licenses were either established U.S. companies that specialize in organizing foreign educational and cultural programs, or institutions that qualified in their own right for a license because of their internal educational programs.

Programs offered by holders of §515.565(b)(2) licenses included Afro/Cuban religion and culture; architectural preservation; Cuban music, art and dance; natural history; agricultural organization and production and rural development.

Among the organizations that traveled to Cuba under the §515.565(b)(2) licenses of educational specialists, such as Academic Travel Abroad, were the American Folk Art Museum; Amherst College; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Association of Art Museum Directors; the Smithsonian; Harvard Art Museums (the Fogg Fellows); the Historical Charleston Foundation; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of the City of New York; the Nantucket Preservation Trust; the New York Garden Club of America; the Newark Museum; Princeton University Art Museum; the Rhode Island School of Design; Spoleto Festival USA; the Whitney Museum of American Art; and the Williams College Museum of Art Fellows Program. Organizations licensed to conduct §515.565(b)(2) educational programs in their own right included, among others, the American Museum of Natural History; the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.

Thousands of Americans traveled to Cuba between 1999 and 2003 under “people-to-people” licenses with the intention of broadening their knowledge and understanding of Cuba and its people. It is indisputably within your power to restore that travel.

Yours sincerely,

Robert L. Muse

CC: The Honorable Hillary Clinton
The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
General James Jones
The Honorable Arturo Valenzuela
Daniel Restrepo


1) Two years after the codification attempted by the Helms-Burton Act, a GAO Report (December 1, 1998) titled: Cuban Embargo: Selected Issues Relating to Travel, Exports and Telecommunications said, “It is clear that the President’s broad foreign affairs authority, as well as that under section 5(b) of the Trading With the Enemy Act, allows the executive branch a great deal of discretion in making changes to embargo restrictions.” See also the January 5, 1999 press conference remarks of Ambassador James Dobbins, Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs, NSC, who speaking three years after the enactment of Helms-Burton said: “...Helms-Burton codified the embargo and at the same time, it codified the President’s licensing power. That is, it codified a process by which there was an embargo to which exceptions could be granted on a case-by-case basis by the President in cases in which it was deemed to be consistent with U.S. policy. Of course, we issued hundreds, probably thousands of licenses for different things since Helms-Burton was signed without any complaint - any complaint on the grounds that it was inconsistent with Helms-Burton. In some cases, people didn’t agree with a particular licensing decision. But the concept that the President would be able to license travel, remittances, other things, such as the steps he took in March [1998], is well accepted.” Finally, for Congress’s view of the efficacy of its codification of the embargo by section 102 of the Helms-Burton Act see “Overview and Compilation of U.S. Trade Statutes”, 2005, where the House Committee on Ways and Means wrote, “Title I of the Act provides that the Cuban embargo as in force on March 1, 1996 (including the executive branch discretion contained therein) is to remain in effect until the president takes certain steps outlined in section 204 of the Act to suspend or terminate the embargo based on the existence of a transition government or a democratically elected government in Cuba.”

2) Section 515.565 is the section of the travel regulations administered by the Treasury Department that authorizes travel to Cuba for educational purposes. Subsection (a) of §565 governs the academic programs in Cuba of accredited U.S. colleges and universities. Subsection (b) authorized: “Educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program when those exchanges take place under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes such programs to promote people-to-people contact.”

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Editorials on Travel

The Boston Globe

Cuban Travel Restrictions
Still fighting the Cold War

August 20, 2010

IF THE impoverishing, repressive regime of the Castro brothers in Cuba has degenerated into a sad mockery of its romantic-revolutionary origins, America’s embargo of Cuba has taken on the mindless rigidity of a tribal vendetta that continues to be pursued no matter how stultifying it may be to new generations. So reports that the Obama administration is preparing to loosen some restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, cultural, and religious groups merit only tepid applause.

This adjustment to a counter-productive travel ban would merely undo restrictions that the George W. Bush administration added to Bill Clinton’s people-to-people liberalization of the draconian travel ban imposed in 1967. Obama, who has already made it easier for Cuban-Americans to visit the island, can extend the exception to academic and religious travelers without a need for congressional action.

He should exercise that presidential prerogative. But he should also push for congressional abolition of the more encompassing embargo on Cuba. At this point, the embargo only serves to prolong the material deprivation of Cubans, allowing Fidel Castro, 84, and his brother Raul, 79, to go on claiming that all Cuba’s miseries are caused by the yanqui embargo. If American tourists and US products were allowed to pour into Cuba, the economic effects would be positive for the Cuban people and American businesses, and a revolution of rising expectations could be set in motion.

There are no more Soviet missiles going to Cuba. Cuban troops are no longer fighting in Angola. The Cold War has long since vanished into the mists of history. America, no less than Cuba, needs to catch up with the 21st century.


The Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Lifting ban on travel to Cuba best way to push democratic ideals

THE ISSUE: Obama mulls easing Cuba travel ban.

The Obama administration is expected to announce further easing of travel restrictions to Cuba. It's a step in the right direction, even if it has a same-old, same-old feel to it.

The White House is expected to give a green light to Cuba travel by religious groups, academic institutions and cultural groups. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's the type of "people-to-people" exchanges advocated by the Clinton administration in the 1990s.

During that era, baseball teams, orchestras, researchers, you name it, traveled to Cuba in the name of evangelizing democracy through contacts between individuals rather than governments. Considering the icy relationship between Havana and Washington since the early 1960s, the program seemed logical.
The freer approach to come and go with Cuba ended with the Bush administration. A get-tough approach in Washington and a contemptible crackdown on dissidents by the Castro regime brought the much tighter restrictions that Obama is now expected to roll back.

The restrictions imposed by the Bush administration didn't weaken the Castro regime. In fact, when Fidel Castro fell ill in 2006, power was seamlessly transferred to his brother. The restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba from the United States only further isolated ordinary Cubans, making them more dependent on the Castro government.

The Obama White House deserves credit for taking this next step. But advocates for open travel to Cuba — as well as opponents of unfettered travel — can't celebrate much.

Proponents must take into account that past experience has shown that limited travel to Cuba, as will exist even under the expected easing, can quickly be tightened by the next administration. They must continue pushing for a complete lifting of the travel ban, which would lead to a more permanent travel policy for all.

Opponents of Cuba travel must also understand the counterproductive nature of their argument. As long as a general prohibition exists, the only people who will travel to Cuba are those who are neutral or harbor sympathy for the regime.
The way to truly support democratic ideals in Cuba is by removing the general ban on travel. Allow travel to Cuba by all, not just those in permissible categories or those cherry-picked by Havana.

BOTTOM LINE: Lift the whole ban.


Louisville Courier Journal

Travel to Cuba

August 21, 2010

The Obama administration seems poised to
announce the easing of some restrictions on
Americans who wish to visit, study in or even do
business with Cuba. This would particularly apply
to academic and cultural groups and institutions.
If this pans out, it would be a good and long
overdue development, even if it won't play well
with some Cuban Americans, especially in
Florida, where anti-Castro sentiment remains
strong and politically charged.

Actually, this nation's Cuban travel and trade
embargoes have been slices of diplomatic and
legal Swiss cheese for some time. Thousands of
Americans have slipped in and out of Cuba
illegally through second countries — Mexico, the
Bahamas and Canada, for example — and the
Cuban authorities accommodate them by not
stamping their passports.

But now, a House bill to lift the travel and trade
bans has cleared the Agriculture Committee.

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who has
visited Cuba and who supports changing the U.S.
-Cuba policy, has said, “What we've done doesn't
work, and it's clear that it doesn't work, so we
need to try something new.”

Actually, a new approach ought to be to
eliminate travel restrictions, not simply
moderate them. Americans are permitted to
travel to most other totalitarian and
undeveloped countries around the world. The
Cuban embargo reflects a failed effort to
dislodge Fidel Castro's regime and pandering to
Florida voters who oppose any relaxation in U.S.-
Cuban relations.

More exposure to Americans might well fuel the
Cuban population's desire for political and
economic change.

In any case, the Cold War is over. Cuba's
government is a threat to no one, except
perhaps its own people. It's time to move on.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Updated stories prior to Administration Announcement on Travel

Cuba travel promoters gear up

By William Gibson September 2, 2010 12:19 PM

The unofficial word in Washington is that the Obama administration plans to relax limits on travel to Cuba for professional, educational and artistic purposes.

Some travel promoters are gearing up to handle potentially hundreds of thousands more visits.

Cuba Education Tours, a Canadian outfit, is urging Americans to start booking trips before the anticipated rules change.

“There is no need to wait for changes from Washington and be left out on account of overbooked tours and too few rooms and services,” the group says in an e-mail message touting their licensed services.

The tour group promotes a Boomers Whole Cuba Tour, a Havana International Jazz Festival Tour, a New Years Teachers Introduction to Cuba Tour and others detailed at

“Cubans are eager to meet you and make friends with their northern cousins,” says Marcel Hatch, education director for the group.

Canadians have long traveled to Cuba without restraint.

The administration has not announced the change, but sources say it will come later this year, perhaps after the mid-term elections in November.

The new rules would not undo the U.S. embargo, nor would they open the floodgates to American tourists. They would ease restrictions on visas for selected purposes -- business, educational or artistic -- that were imposed by former President George W. Bush.

Essentially, U.S. officials would return to the policy of the Bill Clinton administration, which encouraged people-to-people encounters with Cubans.

Most Cuban-American leaders in South Florida support limits on travel to try to isolate Cuba and deprive the Castro regime of tourism dollars. But many in Congress are pressing to remove the travel ban for all Americans, saying more contact and communication would encourage reforms in Cuba.

Obama last year fulfilled his campaign promise to allow Cuban-Americans to visit their families and to send unlimited amounts of money to Cuba.

Relaxed rules that make it easier for special groups to visit the island is the next incremental step toward closer engagement with Florida’s estranged neighbor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

From Deirdre Walsh, CNN Congressional Producer

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration is preparing to announce new rules allowing some travel to Cuba, along with an expanded ability for Americans to send economic assistance, a senior U.S. official and congressional sources said Wednesday.

According to two congressional aides briefed informally on the plans, the administration is expected to announce "soon" that it will essentially reinstate measures that were in place under the Clinton administration.

Both aides stressed that the administration is still working through the details and legal language.

"It's a return to Clinton, plus some," one aide said, noting that President George W. Bush tightened restrictions on travel and cultural exchanges.

The central component of the policy involves "people to people" exchanges that would allow academics, corporations, humanitarian groups and athletic teams to travel to Cuba. The administration is not lifting tourist travel limits or the strict trade restrictions currently in place but would promote cultural exchanges and programs with universities or allow U.S. farms to send assistance to Cuban farmers as part of the new rules.

One of the aides who supports the changes stressed that the goal is to allow travel for people to help Cubans build their own economy and culture. The policy is "to go down there, give a message of hope, to help the Cuban people forge their own future as they want, not necessarily as the way another government wants."

In addition, the administration is planning to expand the policy it announced last year that allowed Cuban-Americans to send "remittances" or economic support to family members in Cuba. The new regulations would allow any U.S. citizen, as well as universities, churches and businesses, to send money or sponsor a partner in Cuba. There would be a cap on the amount of money that could be sent.

The new policy would make it easier for universities, sports teams and businesses to set up exchanges. The State Department would shift its current policy, which now denies visas for Cubans to travel to the U.S., to one that gives a "presumption of approval" unless a review discovers a problem with the request.

Although the administration cannot change current travel restrictions without congressional approval, it does have the authority to loosen visa rules

The congressional aides expected the administration to unveil the changes through a statement by the president or the secretary of state, along with text of the new regulations.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that although he had nothing to announce, "our overarching goal here is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. And, consistent with that objective, we've promoted measures to encourage the free flow of information and humanitarian items to the Cuban people."

Likewise, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton gave no details in response to reporters' questions Tuesday but added, "the president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interest of the United States and that help to create a more democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people."

CNN Senior State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

U.S. preparing to ease travel restrictions to Cuba
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010; A02
The White House is preparing measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday.
The measures would make it easier for Americans to get U.S. government licenses for cultural, educational and sports exchanges, according to congressional aides briefed on the new policy. They would not end the longtime economic embargo or the ban on U.S. tourists visiting the island.
The changes would restore a policy from the Bill Clinton administration that encouraged "people-to-people" contacts with residents of the Communist-ruled nation, officials said. Such visits were limited by the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 and later restricted further by the George W. Bush administration.
"These are not revolutionary," one congressional staff member said of the changes. "They're not going to cause political blowback, because we did all this stuff before." Like other officials, the staffer spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new policy has not yet been announced.
Others predicted that the changes would stir opposition. Although the measures do not need congressional approval, "it would be very poor judgment on [the White House's] part not to be responsible to the Congress . . . in giving them the proper heads-up. This is an election year. Everything is toxic," said a senior GOP aide familiar with the issue, who said the administration has not briefed key Republicans.
Since the stricter regulations on travel took effect in 2004, U.S. outreach to the Cuban people has largely been channeled through official democracy programs.
Those efforts have had limited results, in part because "the covert political nature of these programs has put at risk not only U.S. operatives, but also their beneficiaries" in Cuba, according to a recent report by the U.S.-Cuba Relations Project of the Brookings Institution. Andy Gomez, a University of Miami professor and a report author, said the expansion of people-to-people programs would come at a critical time, coinciding with a growth in civil-society groups, including a lively bloggers' community, in economically strapped Cuba.
"The time is ripe for us to build bridges with the Cuban people," he said.
But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a prominent Cuban American legislator, said the timing was wrong. "Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations," he said in a statement.
Several people familiar with the new measures said they could be made public within days or weeks. They are undergoing final scrutiny but have been discussed at White House principals' meetings, according to those interviewed.
The measures will provide more leeway for Americans who are not of Cuban descent to send donations. Also being discussed is an expansion of telecommunication links, officials said.
President Obama last year loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans' visits and remittances to the island. Relations between Washington and Havana, however, have been rocky. Among the irritants is the detention of Alan P. Gross, a USAID contractor being held without charge in Havana since December. Gross had been bringing computer gear into the country secretly.
Cuban authorities' announcement last month that they would free 52 political prisoners has provided an opening for the new U.S. measures, analysts said, although the administration has been discussing the changes for months.
"It's a little easier to do it, given the political prisoners' release. But I think they were going to do it anyway," said Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Staff writer Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

US plans more contacts with Cuba
(AFP) – 2 hours ago

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's administration will soon announce steps to increase contacts between the US and Cuban peoples, a senior administration official said.

The plans come after Washington welcomed a deal last month in which Cuba agreed to free 52 of 75 dissidents sentenced in 2003 to prison terms of up to 28 years, but there was no sign of an easing of the decades-old US trade embargo.

"We are reviewing ways of increasing people-to-people contact with Cuba. Additional steps will be announced soon," a senior US official told AFP when asked whether Washington will ease restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Obama administration is seeking to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to communist Cuba, while leaving the US embargo in place.

It wants to loosen restrictions on travel by academic, religious and cultural groups that were imposed by president George W. Bush's administration and return to the "people-to-people policies" followed under president Bill Clinton, it said.

The Obama administration last year lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans with relatives in Cuba, but it has urged Havana to free political prisoners and improve political freedoms.

The administration last year also resumed talks on migration with Cuba that had been conducted every two years until Bush suspended them in 2003.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Obama administration is getting ready to relax travel restrictions to Cuba for some Americans, without lifting the trade embargo and a ban on U.S. tourism to the island, a congressional aide said on Tuesday.
The small steps would make it easier for groups of Americans to once again go to the Communist island as part of academic, cultural or religious exchanges, as thousands of them did during the Clinton administration, the aide told Reuters.
Officials are trying to finish regulations so the changes can be announced before Congress returns in mid-September — well before November 2 midterm elections, said the aide who was briefed on the plans but asked not to be named.
Some Cuban-American lawmakers are adamantly opposed to improving U.S. ties with Communist Cuba, which have been in the diplomatic deep freeze most of the time since Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. He has been succeeded as president by his brother Raul, who has agreed to free some political prisoners.
Other U.S. lawmakers, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, have urged the U.S. government to open up more to Cuba. Several bills in Congress would promote more trade and travel there.
Restrictions on money transfers may also be eased, making it easier for Americans to donate cash to Cuban organizations such as churches or community groups, the aide said.
U.S. sanctions against Cuba are aimed at encouraging democratic reform in the one-party state. Critics of the policy say they have failed to do so in almost 50 years in effect.
President Barack Obama has said he wants to “recast” ties with Cuba, and last year renewed outreach efforts to the island. He eased limits on travel by separated family members and cash remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives.
U.S. advocates for better ties with Cuba, which include business and pro-democracy groups, are expecting the Obama administration to go further now, especially in the wake of Cuba’s recent decision to free 52 jailed dissidents.
“There will be a huge emphasis on people-to-people travel. That is (the Obama administration’s) whole mantra. That’s what they’re talking about,” said Sarah Stephens, executive director of Center for Democracy in the Americas, a non-profit group in Washington that opposes sanctions against Cuba.
Cuba plans to drill for oil in its Gulf of Mexico waters and U.S. companies would be left out if deposits are found and the trade embargo is not lifted, she said.
Jake Colvin, vice president at the National Foreign Trade Council, said the new policy could possibly increase the number of airports from which U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba.
White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton said there was nothing new to announce on Cuba policy, “but the president is going to continue to do things that are in the best interest of the United States and that help to create a more democratic environment and expand freedoms for the Cuban people.”
Obama will visit Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community in the United States, on Wednesday for a political fund-raiser.
Under the expected changes, the law banning U.S. travel to Cuba would not be scrapped, but more licenses for exceptions to this ban would be issued on a case-by-case basis to groups of Americans by the U.S. Treasury Department, the aide said.
This was common under President Bill Clinton, but his successor President George W. Bush reversed the policy and such group travel requests were routinely denied.
(Additional reporting by Doug Palmer, Patricia Zengerle and David Alexander, editing by Anthony Boadle)

U.S. Reaffirms Support for Democracy in Cuba

WASHINGTON – The United States government reaffirmed Monday its support for the Cuban people determining their own destiny, but avoided answering requests that the White House respond to the freeing of political prisoners in Cuba with an easing of its policies toward that country.

“We will continue pursuing policies that advance the national interests of the United States, and we support the desire of the Cuban people to freely determine the future of their country,” National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer told Efe.

Nonetheless, the White House neither confirmed nor denied news reports of a possible liberalization of trips to Cuba, particularly those of a cultural or academic nature.

A coalition of civic, business and academic groups, including Amnesty International, has recently urged that President Barack Obama respond to the gesture of the Raul Castro government, which has begun releasing 52 political prisoners.

“The Havana government has now set free a number of political prisoners and plans to release others. If the U.S. government makes it easier to travel there, it would at any rate be a relatively small step,” Wayne Smith, who headed the U.S. Interests Section in Havana from 1979-1982, told Efe Monday.

“Cubans have their problems but they’re moving forward – why don’t we? The rest of the hemisphere’s countries have full diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba – we’re the only ones isolated on that issue,” Smith said.

According to the Center of Democracy in the Americas, if Obama were to expand the categories of “legitimate trips” to Cuba, he would give “a clear signal that he wants to change the policy,” although only Congress can eliminate all the restrictions on travel to the island as well as the economic embargo Washington imposed in 1962.

Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both houses insist that the United States should not reward Havana for the human-rights violations on the communist-ruled island.

The subject is also being debated in the Democratic primary elections, which will choose a candidate to contest Republicans on Nov. 2 for an open seat in the Senate representing Florida.

Jeff Greene, one of the two Democratic hopefuls in the Aug. 24 primary, said Sunday that the nearly 50 years of efforts to isolate the Cuban regime has been a “failed policy” for the United States, and if he gets to the Senate, he’ll be looking at a “revision.”

Obama, who in 2009 liberalized rules for Cuban-Americans’ travel and remittances to the island, flies to Miami Beach this Wednesday to support the candidacy of Greene’s rival in the primaries, Rep. Kendrick Meek, who favors maintaining the economic embargo on Cuba. EFE

White House moves to ease travel restrictions to Cuba
By Mary Beth Sheridan and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; 12:30 PM

The White House is preparing a package of measures that would expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba and send money there, congressional and Obama administration officials said Tuesday.

The measures, which do not need congressional approval, would make it easier for Americans to get U.S. government licenses for cultural, educational and sports exchanges, according to congressional aides briefed on the new policy. The regulations would not end the current economic embargo or the ban on American tourists visiting the island.

The changes would largely restore a policy from the Clinton administration that encouraged "people-to-people" contacts with residents of the Communist-ruled nation, officials said. Such contacts were limited by the Helms-Burton legislation of 1996 and later tightened further by the George W. Bush administration.

"These are not revolutionary. They're not going to cause political blowback. Because we did all this stuff before" under Clinton, said one congressional staff member, who like other officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the new policy has not yet been announced.

Still, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a prominent Cuban American legislator, expressed concern. "This is not the time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime," he said in a statement. "Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations."

Supporters argue that people-to-people programs are more effective than U.S. government efforts to promote democracy in Cuba, since it is illegal for Cubans to receive aid under many of the official U.S. programs.

Several people familiar with the new measures said they could be made public within weeks. They are undergoing final scrutiny but have already been discussed at White House principals' meetings, according to those interviewed.

The changes were first reported Tuesday by the New York Times.

Obama last year loosened restrictions on Cuban Americans' ability to visit and send remittances to the island, but the new steps appear more significant. Among other things, they would allow Americans more leeway to send money to the island, as long as it wasn't going to senior Cuban officials, aides said.

Asked about the new measures, the White House issued a statement by spokesman Mike Hammer: "We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future."

The Obama administration has been crafting the new policy for months, and officials said it was not in response to an announcement last month that the Cuban government would free 52 political prisoners.

US weighs easing of Cuba travel restrictions
By MATTHEW LEE (AP) – 59 minutes ago
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration, in a test of the Castro regime's appetite for further reform in the wake of its release of political prisoners, is considering easing travel restrictions to Cuba, U.S. and congressional officials said Tuesday.
The move would leave intact the nearly 50-year-old embargo against the communist regime but would expand opportunities for American students, educators and researchers to visit Cuba, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations continue on the scope and scale of the changes.
A decision could be announced before the end of next week. However, the officials cautioned that political considerations could hold up a decision, possibly until after November's midterm congressional elections.
Some in Congress have voiced opposition to a further easing in the restrictions, which President Barack Obama loosened last year to allow Cuban-Americans to visit and send money to relatives on the island. The new changes would extend some of those provisions to a broader group of Americans and could expand direct flights to Cuba, the officials said.
Details of the possible revisions were first reported Tuesday by The New York Times. But speculation about them has run rife in Washington since late July after Havana released the first batch of political prisoners.
Obama has said that he wants to reach out to Cuba and promote democracy there by easing travel and financial restrictions. But he has also said there must be political or economic reforms before the U.S. takes further steps to ease Cuba's isolation.
The White House and State Department declined to comment Tuesday on specifics of the changes.
"We will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future," said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House. Those comments were echoed word-for-word by a State Department spokesman.
Speaking privately, two administration officials and a congressional source said support for the changes increased after Cuba began the release of political prisoners in July, which was brokered by the Catholic church.
Some supporters of easing the embargo say Raul Castro, who assumed power from his ailing brother Fidel in 2006, may be trying to find a way to reduce state control of society without losing control, much like the Chinese communist party in the 1980s.
But the Obama administration could find it difficult politically to broaden ties with Cuba. The White House is still appealing to Cuba for the release of a U.S. government contractor who was detained last year.
Any effort to ease the embargo against Cuba would be fiercely opposed by Republicans and Democrats, both on Capitol Hill and across the U.S., who warn that it would weaken attempts to promote a fundamental change in Havana.
A growing number of lawmakers in both parties see Cuba as a lucrative market for U.S. farm exports, and support dropping at least some restrictions on trade.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has said that loosening restrictions would reward a repressive government that has shown little interest in reform.
"Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations," Menendez said in an Aug. 6 statement.
Mendendez' comments came in response to a mention of possible changes published in a Washington Post column.

AP sources: US weighs Cuba travel restrictions
By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer Matthew Lee, Associated Press Writer 1 hr 17 mins ago
WASHINGTON – U.S. and congressional officials say the Obama administration is considering easing travel restrictions to Cuba and could announce a decision before the end of next week.
The officials said Tuesday a decision on the move to increase "people-to-people" exchanges with the communist island has not yet been made. They said political considerations could still hold it up.
But they said the administration is keen to expand opportunities for American students, educators and researchers to visit Cuba. Details of the proposed policy shift were reported Tuesday by The New York Times.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations are still ongoing.

August 16, 2010
U.S. Said to Plan Easing Rules for Travel to Cuba
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is planning to expand opportunities for Americans to travel to Cuba, the latest step aimed at encouraging more contact between people in both countries, while leaving intact the decades-old embargo against the island’s Communist government, according to Congressional and administration officials.
The officials, who asked not to be identified because they had not been authorized to discuss the policy before it was announced, said it was meant to loosen restrictions on academic, religious and cultural groups that were adopted under President George W. Bush, and return to the “people to people” policies followed under President Bill Clinton.
Those policies, officials said, fostered robust exchanges between the United States and Cuba, allowing groups — including universities, sports teams, museums and chambers of commerce — to share expertise as well as life experiences.
Policy analysts said the intended changes would mark a significant shift in Cuba policy. In early 2009, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel and remittances only for Americans with relatives on the island.
Congressional aides cautioned that some administration officials still saw the proposals as too politically volatile to announce until after the coming midterm elections, and they said revisions could still be made.
But others said the policy, which does not need legislative approval, would be announced before Congress returned from its break in mid-September, partly to avoid a political backlash from outspoken groups within the Cuban American lobby — backed by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey — that oppose any softening in Washington’s position toward Havana.
Those favoring the change said that with a growing number of polls showing that Cuban-Americans’ attitudes toward Cuba had softened as well, the administration did not expect much of a backlash.
“They have made the calculation that if you put a smarter Cuba policy on the table, it will not harm us in the election cycle,” said one Democratic Congressional aide who has been working with the administration on the policy. “That, I think, is what animates this.”
Mr. Menendez, in a statement, objected to the anticipated changes. “This is not the time to ease pressure on the Castro regime,” he said, referring to President Raúl Castro of Cuba, who took office in 2006 after his brother, Fidel, fell ill. Mr. Menendez added that promoting travel would give Havana a “much needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression.”
In effect, the new policy would expand current channels for travel to Cuba, rather than create new ones. Academic, religious and cultural groups are now allowed to travel under very tight rules. For example, students wanting to study in Cuba are required to stay at least 10 weeks. And only accredited universities can apply for academic visas.
Under the new policy, such restrictions would be eased, officials said. And academic institutions, including research and advocacy groups and museums, would be able to seek licenses for as long as two years.
In addition, the administration is also planning to allow flights to Cuba from more cities than the three — Miami, New York and Los Angeles — currently permitted. And there are proposals, the officials said, to allow all Americans to send remittances or charitable donations to churches, schools and human rights groups in Cuba.
Some analysts said the measures were partly a response to pressure from an unlikely alliance of liberal political groups and conservative business associations — led by Senator John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — who have been pushing Congress to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba.
Others described it as a nod to President Castro’s stunning decision last month to begin releasing dozens of political prisoners.
“It’s a way of fostering greater opening and exchange without a bruising battle with a much-needed political ally in an election year,” said Christopher Sabatini, senior policy director at the Council of the Americas. “But it can still be legitimately couched as a way of supporting democracy and human rights by allowing independent exchange and thought.”
As with everything concerning Cuba, the new policy seems fraught with complications. President Obama, who came to office promising to open new channels of engagement with Cuba, has so far had limited those new openings to Cuban-Americans, partly because of political concerns, and also because his administration’s attention had been focused on more pressing foreign policy matters, including two wars.
“I don’t think the administration believes this will produce palpable change in the short term,” said Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations. “But it’s a way over the long term to allow Americans and Cubans to have contact, even as their governments continue to hash out a lot of seriously thorny issues.”
High on the United States’ list of issues is winning the release of an American contractor who was detained in Cuba nine months ago when the authorities said they caught him distributing satellite telephones to Jewish dissidents. The contractor, Alan P. Gross, had gone to Cuba without the proper visa as part of longstanding program by the organization Usaid, in which development workers conduct activities aimed at strengthening groups that oppose the Castro government.
“We’re dealing with a relationship that’s so contorted, it would take another 50 years of incremental steps to pull it apart and reassemble it in a constructive way,” said Robert Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University. “Even then, we’re having trouble taking baby steps, when what we need is a giant leap.”

The Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Aug. 06, 2010
U.S. could ease restrictions on `purposeful' visits to Cuba

The Obama administration will soon ease some restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba and other sanctions following Havana's promise to free political prisoners, according to people close to the administration.

Two people told El Nuevo Herald on Friday the decision has been made and will be announced in the next two weeks. Another said he has heard the reports but cautioned they could be ``trial balloons.''

The key change will be an expansion of educational and cultural travel, which accounted for about 2,000 visits in 2009, said two of the sources. Many academics have urged President Barack Obama to expand those visits, drastically trimmed by the George W. Bush administration.

One of them added that Obama also will restore the broader ``people-to-people'' category of travel, which allows ``purposeful'' visits to increase contacts between U.S. and Cuban citizens.

Though that category requires prior U.S. licenses for the trips, it is fuzzy enough to allow for much expanded travel to Cuba, the source added. All asked for anonymity because they did not want to be seen as preempting a White House announcement.

The people-to-people category was established by the Clinton administration but was closed in 2003 by Bush, both because of his more aggressive policies toward Cuba and complaints that too many people were abusing it for tourist trips.

An estimated 150,000-200,000 U.S. travelers visited the island in 2001. The figure dropped to 120,000 during Bush's last year in office, but rebounded to 200,000 in 2009 after Obama lifted nearly all restrictions on Cuban-Americans' travel to the island.

Another change will be permission for U.S.-Cuba flights from all of the approximately 35 U.S. airports that have top-level security arrangements, according to two of the sources. Cuba flights are now approved only for Miami, Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

Obama also will make it easier to pay in the United States for telephone and other services rendered in Cuba, the sources added, in hopes of increasing communications between the island and Cuban exiles.

Francisco ``Pepe'' Hernandez, president of the Cuban-American National Foundation, told El Nuevo Herald he could not confirm the reports but noted that CANF opposes U.S. tourism in Cuba but favors easing the travel restrictions.

``For a long time we have been making an effort with the [Obama] administration to extend the licenses and spectrum of people-to-people travel because we believe this is a proactive measure that is going to help to provide people in Cuba with the support they need,'' he said.

Mike Hammer, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council, said only that the Obama administration ``will continue to pursue policies that advance the U.S. national interest and support the Cuban people's desire to freely determine their country's future.''

But the reports drew quick condemnations from opponents of easing sanctions, who all noted that U.S. government subcontractor Alan Gross and at least 30 political prisoners remain jailed in Cuba.

``This is not time to ease the pressure on the Castro regime. They have made no significant concessions that should be rewarded,'' said Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a Cuban-American and head of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, a powerful post in an election year.

``Promoting travel and widespread remittances will give the regime a much-needed infusion of dollars that will only allow the Castro brothers to extend their reign of oppression and human rights violations,'' Menendez added in a statement.

Said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.: ``Concessions to tyrants like Fidel Castro simply embolden them in their ruthless brutality. History teaches that lesson. . . . But President Obama continues to err.''

U.S. regulations allow only 12 categories of travel to Cuba, including family reunification, official U.S. government business, journalism, professional research and meetings, educational and religious activities, and performances or athletic competitions.

Some fall under ``general licenses'' that do not require prior U.S. approval, but most require applications for ``specific licenses'' issued by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

The ``people-to-people'' travel, if it is restored, would require specific licenses, but the president has the power to change it into general license, said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who follows U.S. sanctions on Cuba closely.

Congress has been considering a bill that would lift all U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. Its backers insist it has a good chance of passing, though congressional staffers monitoring the bill say it's short of the needed votes.

One of the three sources said the easing of the travel and other restrictions is the Obama administration's ``calibrated response'' to the Raúl Castro government's promise to free at least 52 political prisoners by September. More than 20 already are free.

Because the changes will be the result of presidential decisions, rather than changes in the maze of U.S. laws regulating relations with Cuba, Obama ``can backtrack if it all goes bad,'' he said.

One Democratic Party operative in Miami said, however, that any decision to ease the restrictions would not be a reply to the Castro promise, but rather a continuation of the Obama policy of doing whatever he believes benefits U.S. interests in Cuba, no matter what Castro does.

The operative said he was not worried that Cuba might complain that the Obama changes would be a too-meager response to Castro's promise to free the 52 political prisoners -- the biggest such release since 1998.

``The last thing we want is Cuba saying, `Thanks, Obama,' '' said the man, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak on Obama policies.

Read more:

Monday, August 9, 2010

Members of House Committee on Foreign Affairs

$ = 2008/2010 (so far) campaign cycle contributions from Florida's hard line US-Cuba Democracy PAC. Larger contributions reflect the PAC's judgment of whom it is most important to influence. $0 can mean the Representative is seen as hopelessly pro-travel or a sure thing against. "na" means not in office in 2008.

More than half of the members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs received contributions: 26 of 47 received a total of $178,000. Some recipients, like Chairman Berman, have publicly expressed support for travel. Others who are unalterably opposed did not receive anything.

While it is perfectly legal to accept out-of-district PAC money, constituents may legitimately wonder to whom their Representative is most loyal.

874 = cosponsor of stand alone travel bill
4645 = cosponsor of bill with agriculture sales and same travel provisions

text of 4645 can be seen here


Howard L. Berman
D-CA, 28th District

Gary L. Ackerman
Vice Chair
D-NY, 5th District

Eni F.H. Faleomavaega
D-American Samoa

Donald M. Payne
D-NJ, 10th District

Brad Sherman
D-CA, 27th District

Eliot L. Engel
Chair, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee
D-NY, 17th District

Bill Delahunt
D-MA, 10th District

Gregory W. Meeks
D-NY, 6th District

Diane E. Watson
D-CA, 33rd District

Russ Carnahan
D-MO, 3rd District

Albio Sires
D-NJ, 13th District

Gerald E. Connolly
D-VA, 11th District

Michael E. McMahon
D-NY, 13th District

Theodore E. Deutch
D-FL, 19th District

John S. Tanner
D-TN, 8th District

Gene Green
D-TX, 29th District

Lynn Woolsey
D-CA, 6th District

Sheila Jackson Lee
D-TX, 18th District

Barbara Lee
D-CA, 9th District

Shelley Berkley
D-NV, 1st District

Joseph Crowley
D-NY, 7th District

Mike Ross
D-AR, 4th District

Brad Miller
D-NC, 13th District

David Scott
D-GA, 13th District

Jim Costa
D-CA, 20th District

Keith Ellison
D-MN, 5th District

Gabrielle Giffords
D-AZ, 8th District

Ron Klein
D-FL, 22nd District


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Ranking Republican Member
R-FL, 18th District

Christopher H. Smith
R-NJ, 4th District

Dan Burton
R-IN, 5th District

Elton Gallegly
R-CA, 24th District

Dana Rohrabacher
R-CA, 46th District

Donald A. Manzullo
R-IL, 16th District

Edward R. Royce
R-CA, 40th District

Ron Paul
R-TX, 14th District

Jeff Flake
R-AZ, 6th District

Mike Pence
R-IN, 6th District

Joe Wilson
R-SC, 2nd District

John Boozman
R-AR, 3rd District

J. Gresham Barrett
R-SC, 3rd District

Connie Mack
R-FL, 14th District

Jeff Fortenberry
R-NE, 1st District

Michael T. McCaul
R-TX, 10th District

Ted Poe
R-TX, 2nd District

Bob Inglis
R-SC, 4th District

Gus Bilirakis
R-FL, 9th District

Click here for updated information on PAC recipients and donors.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Letter to the President

August 09, 2010

President Barack Obama
The White House Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

The academic, religious, trade, and policy organizations listed below write to urge you to respond to recent positive actions in Cuba, particularly the announcement of the release of all of the remaining political prisoners arrested in 2003, by closing the book on the actions that President George W. Bush took in response to those arrests.

In 2003 and 2004, President Bush exercised his regulatory authority to significantly curtail academic and people-to-people exchange between the United States and Cuba, as well as family travel and remittances. These actions, which many of us opposed at the time, produced no positive effects in Cuba but had serious negative impacts not only on Cuban families, but also on the ability of American citizens to study and learn in Cuba and to engage the Cuban people. You took a very significant step to rectify this situation, which we applauded, early in your administration when you removed restrictions on family travel and remittances, and opened up telecommunications with the island. We also commend you for approving more visas for Cubans to visit the United States and for taking other administrative actions to facilitate travel.

You have indicated that further steps would be possible in response to positive actions by Cuba, specifically including the release of political prisoners. Now that such action is being taken, it is essential that you respond, at a minimum, by removing the remaining restrictions that were imposed by President Bush. Failure to do so would not only continue to deny American citizens the ability to engage with Cuba in ways that were permissible before 2003, but would also, we fear, jeopardize the momentum toward the eventual objective that you and we share of normalizing relations with the island.

We also encourage you to consider further actions, beyond those specified above, to facilitate travel to Cuba—specifically, to permit travel by eligible persons via general license. This will greatly ease eligible travel and will permit enforcement efforts to be focused where they are needed rather than on the administration of routine licenses.

Finally, we reiterate our strong support for legislation pending in Congress relating to travel and agricultural sales to Cuba. As a matter of policy, the ban on U.S. citizen travel to the island is counterproductive. It hurts U.S. national interests, limits exports, and restricts American citizens’ freedom to travel while doing nothing to advance human rights or democracy on the island. While you can use your regulatory authority to ease travel restrictions, it is up to Congress to end them. We hope your Administration will also signal its support for Congressional action.

Mr. President, this is an important moment. We ask you to take bold steps to reverse decades of counterproductive policies toward Cuba, and we pledge our support.


American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Institute For Foreign Study
The Center for Democracy in the Americas
Center for International Policy
CIEE – Council on International Educational Exchange
Cuba Academic Alliance
Cuban American Alliance Education Fund, Inc.
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Latin America Working Group
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Foreign Trade Council
National Tour Association
Social Science Research Council
Washington Office on Latin America

NAFSA Press Release

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Nuances of People to People Travel Licenses

1)  Licenses should be general, not specific, based on the purpose of the trip, or the established character of the organizer, not on approval of an application.  OFAC and its traditional agenda of control and limitation must be removed from the loop as completely as possible. 

The analogy is the way Cuban American travel was handled.  Some of the more moderate hard liners in Miami (CANF) pushed for only restoring the Clinton level, once a year visits plus emergencies, and higher but still limited remittances.   Instead the President authorized, as he promised during the campaign, a general license for unlimited family travel and remittances.  

The Clinton process for people to people, while unquestionably preferable to Bush 2004, made organizers of travel jump through time consuming and sometimes arbitrary and unpredictable OFAC hoops.  Practically what this required was two extra bureaucratic levels, first through the counsel's or legal adviser's office of a university or non-profit organization about how to interpret and meet legal requirements (and whether it was worth the cost and trouble given the uncertainty of success); second through OFAC as applications were drafted, considered and often redrafted.  This meant a delaying up-front investment of time and expertise at the sending organization and diversion of staff time in OFAC from more serious national security concerns.   Grass roots and smaller organizations were far less likely to even begin the process.

General licenses for the character of the trip would open the door most widely, as individuals could travel based simply on their intended non-tourist purpose (educational, cultural, religious, humanitarian, dialogue, support for the Cuban people, etc.).  Obviously this is almost impossible to monitor and a certain amount of non-serious travel will occur, but not commercially booked conventional tourism. 

However, it also means motivated Americans will be able to plan completely unchanneled agendas and unsupervisable contacts, like Canadians and Europeans.  In the Clinton/early Bush mode of group travel, the careful scripting of itineraries necessary to satisfy OFAC fit nicely into Cuban agendas for presentation of their country to visiting Americans and monitoring of their experience.   My observation at the time was that the only Americans who could fully meet OFAC's goal for direct unmanaged contact with Cubans were those who traveled illegally on tourist visas and rented a car or otherwise made their way around the country independently.

 It is
probably politically easier to provide a general license to any IRS recognized not-for-profit entity (universities, religious institutions, 501c3, 501c4) to organize trips for people to people purposes.   A legal requirement that such trips be reported one month before and one month after they occur to the appropriate office of the State Department (not OFAC) would provide some level of assurance about seriousness as well as a way of monitoring the breadth of contact underway.

2)  The end of restrictions on participating in conferences organized by Cubans or in holding US based conferences in Cuba will open a wide range of informal people to people contact.   Participation in a conference on tourism studies several weeks ago, for example, enabled me to sit down with officials for whom an in-office appointment would have been harder if not impossible to arrange.  This provision should encompass the kinds of professional meetings that US counterparts in the academic, not-for-profit and business sector will want to attend to make contacts for present and future collaboration in accordance with the law.  The current bar against participation in meetings related to tourism should be removed so preparations can be made in both countries for the situation after Congress restores freedom to travel.   Groups like the Educational Travel Conference, Sister Cities or the national association of World Affairs Councils should be encouraged to hold their annual gatherings in Havana to jump start a wide range of people-to-people programs

3)  The Travel Service Provider registration procedure should be eliminated so all US travel agents are able to book flights, hotels and programs for legally authorized travelers.  Too many of the 200 TSPs are ethnically based and geographically concentrated.  This regulation was an attempt to use travel agents and tour operators as agents of OFAC to control and inhibit travel.  Some TSPs might not be happy with losing their protected market, but the travel industry as a whole will be greatful.  A creative travel agent can develop a productive relationship with local Rotary Clubs, schools, universities, international affairs organizations, Chambers of Commerce, churches, 4H etc. to offer legitimate people to people and educational programs.

4) Itinerary expectations should be realistic.  A full work week of people to people contact, serious learning about Cuba and sharing about the US should not exclude spending a weekend at the beach, preferably one where lots of Cubans are also enjoying themselves.

5) Categories of people-to-people or non-tourist travel which the President can authorize

(1) Family visits
(2) Official business
(3) Journalistic activity
(4) Professional research
(5) Educational activities
(6) Religious activities
(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and
(8) Support for the Cuban people
(9) Humanitarian projects
(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes
(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials
(12) Certain export transactions