Obama Administration Facing Critical Decision on Cuba Travel Policy

Aug 23, 2010, 12:06 ET from Fund for Reconciliation and Development

DOBBS FERRY, N.Y., Aug. 23 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- "Time Magazine poses the right question, 'Will the White House Fight to End the Cuba Travel Ban?'" said John McAuliff, founder and executive director of a twenty-five-year-old non-governmental organization, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2012476,00.html?xid=rss-topstories#ixzz0xQrh1qvI

"The Obama Administration must choose quickly how much to enable travel to Cuba for non-tourist people-to-people purposes.  It has obligated itself to respond to Cuba's ongoing release of  'Black Spring' prisoners.  Half of those who were still imprisoned since 2004 have already been freed," McAuliff observed.

McAuliff added, "the White House could take a minimalist approach and simply reinstate President Clinton's policy, which required time consuming and costly case-by-case applications to the  bureaucratic and politicized judgment of the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department. Or it could implement its pro-dialogue values and grant general licenses to the remaining eleven categories of non-tourist travel, just as it did for the category of Cuban American family visits more than a year ago."

"Under general licenses, travel could be freely organized by schools, cultural institutions, Chambers of Commerce, religious bodies, World Affairs Councils, humanitarian organizations, advocacy groups and other not-for-profit organizations.  Tens of thousands of seriously interested Americans can meet their Cuban counterparts and create mutual understanding and trust, needed in both countries," McAuliff argued.

McAuliff urged the Administration to resist pressure from the exile mind-set of five Cuban Americans in the House and Senate.  "Polls demonstrate that they no longer represent their own community, much less the two-thirds of Americans who support freedom of travel to Cuba.  On Saturday they wrote to the President distorting the clear intent of the law, which gives him complete authority to allow non-tourist travel."

"They opposed even family travel and will denounce any and all reforms, so there is no reason for the White House to be constrained by their misleading statement that they, 'are deeply troubled that such changes would result in economic benefits to the Cuban regime.'  At peak in 2003 only 80,000 people-to-people visitors went to Cuba, a drop in the bucket compared to the 2.4 million foreigners in Cuba last year, including 300,000 Cuban Americans."

McAuliff said, "What really troubles the old guard is that personal contact between diverse Cubans and Americans will puncture their isolationist balloon and contribute to reform in both countries, including the end of all U.S. and Cuban travel and trade restrictions."

(The Fund for Reconciliation and Development was founded in 1985 to foster normal U.S. diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.  Its focus for the past decade has been the same objective with Cuba.)

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"As a first step to changing our policy toward Cuba, the president should issue an executive order to lift as much of the travel ban as possible. The travel ban penalizes U.S. businesses, lowers our credibility in Latin America and fuels anti-U.S. propaganda. Lifting the ban would also be a reciprocal gesture for Cuba's recent agreement, negotiated among the Catholic Church, the Spanish government and President Raul Castro, to release political dissidents. Obama has taken significant steps to loosen restrictions on family travel, remove limits for remittance and expand cooperation in other areas such as expanding the export of humanitarian goods from the United States into Cuba. Loosening travel restrictions is in U.S. interests and would be a bold move toward normalization of relations with Cuba."

Washington Post Op Ed by New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson (currently in Cuba)


A new report from the Brookings Institution recommends general licenses, "Seizing the Opportunity to Expand People to People Contacts" by Dora Beszterczey, Damian F. Fernandez and Andy S. Gomez  http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2010/08_cuba_beszterczey/08_cuba_beszterczey.pdf

Special issue of Right to Travel, the on-line newsletter of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs080/1101047693478/archive/1103631375385.html

SOURCE Fund for Reconciliation and Development