Monday, September 20, 2010

New rules may allow student travel to Cuba

New rules may allow student travel to Cuba
September 19, 2010 by DREW HOOKS

Possible action from the Obama administration regarding Cuba could lift
travel restrictions for academics, making a Cuban study abroad program a
possibility for the University.

President Barack Obama may ease restrictions on academic travel — which
includes universities, students, museums, sports teams and chambers of
commerce — in order to increase "person to person contact" between
Cubans and Americans, The New York Times reported last month.

Since the 1960s, a list of travel restrictions have been enacted on U.S.
citizens wanting to travel to Cuba. These restrictions have been in
place as a part of the economic embargo on Cuba that has sealed off
trade between Cuba and the United States for the last 50 years.

The current restrictions, established in 2004, only allow universities
to have programs with a minimum duration of 10 weeks, forcing many
universities across the United States to end their programs in Cuba.

The revised restrictions, which are expected to be announced this month,
have yet to be defined exactly, but many in the academic community are
hopeful that the restrictions will be modified to allow shorter trips to
Cuba — making Maymester programs and 10-day summer seminars possible,
said University history professor Reinaldo Roman, who travels to Cuba
regularly for research.

The University began a study abroad program for art in 2004 in Cuba, but
had to shut down after its first year because of the restrictions, Roman

The reasoning behind the tightened restrictions Bush imposed was to
close down a loophole in the law which did not differentiate between
people traveling to Cuba for academic research with the intent of
publication and those who would travel for personal knowledge and
experience, Roman said.

The possible lifting of travel restrictions has been met by praise and
disapproval from all sides of the debate.

Liz Gonzalez, a second-year broadcast news major from Toccoa, was
ecstatic when she heard the news.

"I think that's fantastic," she said.

Even though most of her family lives in the United States, Gonzalez said
she has always wanted to travel to Cuba.

But she said her family does not share her enthusiasm.

"My parents don't want to go because they don't want to give money, as
tourists, to the government," she said. "I heard other Cubans say that
too. They don't want their money to fund communism."

Roman notes that even though the Cuban-American community is divided on
the issue of travel to Cuba, many have shifted their beliefs over the years.

"Many favor dialogue with Cuba," he said. "The sentiment in favor of
liberalizing has been growing in the last decade."

Roman said most scholars would support lifting the embargo.

Sarah Stephens, director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas —
an organization that pursues opening dialogue between the United States
and countries it is at odds with in the Americas — expressed a similar

"I support the lifting of these and any of the other restrictions on
travel to or commerce with Cuba not because I admire the Castro
government but because they are counterproductive," Stephens wrote in an
e-mail. "They hurt average Cuban citizens and strengthen Cuban leaders."

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