Title by Rob Sequin, publisher of HavanaJournal.com and article by Erika Bolstad of McClatchy Newspapers
A U.S. House committee will investigate travel programs to Cuba offered by the Smithsonian Institution under a Obama administration initiative designed to expose Cubans to ordinary Americans.
The probe comes at the request of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who earlier this month criticized the government-funded Smithsonian Institution’s travel offerings to Cuba. Ros-Lehtinen, who heads the House Foreign Relations Committee, called the museum’s travel program “little more than a tropical vacation” where Americans wouldn’t see “the brutal reality of the Castro dictatorship.”
The 10-day, $5,400 trip is offered by the Smithsonian’s for-profit arm, which sought and received approval from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. That is the agency that issues permits for American enterprises that want permission to do business under the embargo that has been in place since the 1960s.
“There isn’t one single day at the beach, not one single day,” Linda St. Thomas, a spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution, said of the travel program. “It is not that kind of vacation. Otherwise they wouldn’t qualify for the people-to-people exchange trips. It is not a Caribbean vacation.”
Cuban-American lawmakers have complained that President Barack Obama’s policy on travel to the island nation has been counterproductive, by pumping money from tourism and remittances into the country. The administration’s travel policy was among the reasons cited last year when U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., objected to the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson to be the assistant U.S. secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Friday, Ros-Lehtinen praised the probe by the Committee on House Administration, which oversees the Smithsonian.
“It is irresponsible and reckless for this entity affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution to act as a travel agent for a brutal dictatorship which is a declared enemy of the United States,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The trips unequivocally send the wrong message to the people of Cuba, will further enrich their oppressors, and undermine efforts to bring about a transition to democracy in Cuba.”
The committee has asked for all memos and emails sent between the Smithsonian and the Treasury Department, as well as the planning memos that discuss how the museum decided to pursue such a venture.
St. Thomas said that it “goes without saying” that the institution would comply with the committee’s request. She also said they have no intention of discontinuing the Smithsonian’s four planned trips to Cuba this year - the first of which, in May, is sold out.
The Smithsonian actually lagged behind some other cultural institutions, including universities and National Geographic Expeditions, that have been offering similar travel experiences, St. Thomas said. But because those institutions aren’t subject to congressional oversight, she said, they haven’t faced the same scrutiny.
“It’s totally keeping with the government’s educational travel program,” she said. “And we have the permit from Treasury.”
——————————Havana Journal Comments——————————
Ros-Lehtinen’s continued anti-American behavior is “irresponsible and reckless” to the freedom of all Americans. She does not represent the majority of her constituents’ as numerous polls show that the majority of Cuban Americans are now against the failed “Plan A” Embargo.
Perhaps Ros-Lentinen should be investigated for her abuse of power. I hope this new story gets picked up by major news outlets in order to highlight her selfish, anti-American behavior.
Havana Journal Inc., a Massachusetts based corporation owns IleanaRosLehtinen.com in an exercise of freedom of speech. Ros-Lehtinen may be able to infringe on my rights to travel and trade but she cannot infringe on my freedom of speech.