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

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