The following is a guest post by Walter Turner, President of the Global Exchange Board of Directors and appears in our Winter/Spring 2012/13 print newsletter. Become a member of Global Exchange and have articles like these delivered to your mailbox!
New U.S. Regulations Slow Travel to Cuba
In 1989 Global Exchange took its first delegation of American citizens to Cuba. I remember being on that delegation and sitting on the top floor of the Hotel Presidente discussing how to begin the process of ending the decades old U.S. blockade against Cuba.
Enacted in 1962 during the Kennedy administration the economic, social, and political blockade (El Bloqueo) has long outlived its supposed usefulness.
Year after year U.S. government officials have developed new formats for strengthening the blockade and preventing two countries that have a shared history – and are only geographically 90 miles apart – from having normal political and economic relations.
Over the last 20 years Global Exchange has facilitated travel to Cuba for tens of thousands of U.S. citizens. Educational delegations have provided a big window for Americans to see and learn about Cuba which highlight the world recognized environmental, ecological, medical, and social accomplishments in this developing country of 12 million people. Many of these people traveled to Cuba under the Office of Foreign Assets and Control (OFAC) imposed General License.
In May 2012 the efforts of millions of Americans to normalize relations with Cuba took a step backward and to the side. In early 2011, when President Obama took office, People-to-People licenses (more liberal than the General License) were granted to over 100 organizations as part of a new “dialogue” with Cuba. However, this spring the U.S. State Department and OFAC began a “slow down“ policy on granting and renewing the People-to-People licenses.
In addition to affecting People-to-People licenses in May, and again in July, the administration has backslid on pronouncements that the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility would be closed. On the other hand, the U.S. government has implemented changes in travel guidelines for Cuban Americans and loosened constraints on the transfers of remittances.
The new regulations are confusing, complicated, and laden with bureaucracy. Applications for the renewal of People-to-People licenses have been backlogged with OFAC. New guidelines for People-to-People license holders, Travel Service Providers (TSPs) like Global Exchange and charter flight companies are now encumbered with more paperwork and process.
Many of the organizations that were given one-year People-to-People licenses have had to cancel dozens of educational travel delegations while waiting to hear whether or not their licenses will be renewed. These renewal applications are often cumbersome and convoluted, sometimes reaching 400 pages in length. Essentially, travel to Cuba by American citizens has been slowed for the next several months. It’s clear that these are political decisions.
During the 1990s Global Exchange was among the leaders of the national Freedom to Travel Campaign. Several delegations of American citizens traveled to Cuba and risked arrest and heavy fines to fight the U.S. administration’s travel restrictions and stand up for the right to travel anywhere in the world without restrictions. Global Exchange along with other organizations and individuals are once again speaking out on the new more cumbersome regulations and urging citizen action.
The Cold War ended years ago. Its time for American policy to reflect the rights of its citizens to be able to travel to Cuba and engage – unrestricted – with the people of Cuba. Its time to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, end the 50 years blockade against Cuba, remove Cuba from the list of countries supporting terrorism, and free the Cuban 5.
As a Travel Service Provider (TSP) Global Exchange is authorized to take U.S. citizens to Cuba who qualify under the General License. We have also worked with hundreds of Americans who organized customized delegations with us, and were able to travel to Cuba during the last year under the People-to-People licenses.