(NOTE: We recieved this email from the Latin American Working Group. We have created the title for impact.)
Dear Cuba Policy Advocates:
Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, it does. That is how we are feeling about a series of new, restrictive actions taken by the U.S. government regarding citizen rights to travel to Cuba and to exchange with Cubans. There are so many new examples that we are going to have to resort to a list. So . . . here goes.
1. Incoming visa denials for academics continue. Most recently seven Cubans were denied visas by the U.S. Department of State to attend the annual Society of American Archaeology’s conference in Puerto Rico. See our website homepage http://www.lawg.org for more information and action you could take.
2. It’s Just the Kids (IJTK), the humanitarian organization which we have recommended to you, recently had its two-year travel license severely amended by OFAC. IJTK had planned to bring U.S. volunteers to Havana in June to build three playgrounds, with the approval of both the U.S. and the Cuban governments. The amended travel license, which essentially revoked their original license, expired on April 30, 2006, preventing the June project from proceeding as planned. Bill Hauf, the founder of IJTK, reports that they are working to have the terms of the original license reinstated. For more details, see their website at http://www.itsjustthekids.org/cubasite.htm, and stay tuned.
3. The Department of Treasury has denied travel licenses for U.S. music groups to present public concerts in Cuba, saying that they would no longer approve public performances as a matter of policy and that they will be eliminating “public performance” as an authorized category for travel to Cuba.
4. Six religious travel licenses have been suspended over the past several weeks, in an apparent “crackdown” on travel by Cuban Americans visiting relatives under these religious licenses. OFAC won’t provide the names of the religious organizations. (El Nuevo Herald reports that some 100,000 people have traveled to Cuba for “religious motives” in the last two years since the new restrictions on Cuban-American family travel.)
5. Approximately 16 travel agencies in the Miami area which had been licensed to arrange travel to Cuba lost authorization to do so, effective immediately, in the past month. Four agencies were suspended, as reported by El Nuevo Herald, for “flagrant violations of the established requirements of their licenses.” They are: Estrella de Cuba, Baby Envios Travel, Fortuna Travel Services, and Cubatur Express. If people traveling under the suspended licenses were currently in Cuba, the charter carriers were told they were not allowed to pick up the travelers without sending their names and date of return to OFAC; the carriers would then receive special permission from OFAC to pick up the passengers. Those with up-coming travel plans were informed that their air tickets were canceled.
6. El Nuevo Herald also reports that federal authorities plan to audit in the next years all of the approximately 250 agencies with authorization to operate travel services to Cuba from the United States.
7. A 50-page “Circular 2006” was issued about a month ago to all travel service providers (TSPs) outlining additional reporting and screening procedures which must be implemented immediately, particularly regarding Cuban-American travel and travel under the General License for research. The General License for research is still allowable, but researchers must now supply their resume in advance. Included in these new guidelines: TSPs can no longer hold other specific travel licenses.
8. In 2005, OFAC collected—by their own account—$1.5 million in fines for allegedly traveling without a license and issued a big increase in the number of “requirements to furnish information” (RFIs) sent out. The RFIs include 200 letters sent to Pastors and Peace and the Venceremos Brigade within a two-month period of time in response to their trips last summer.
9. Marazul Charters estimates (unofficial) that travel under the academic specific license is down 90 percent.
We also realize that this trend is not new, but the escalation of restrictive measures is truly alarming. With the imminent approach of the release of new recommendations from the Bush Administration’s so-called “Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba,” we hate to think what further measures may be taken. We have heard a few hints of what may be forthcoming. We aren’t going to like them.
We cannot stand idly by. There is no legislative vehicle that is pending for current action. That strategy has been thwarted by the Bush Administration and the Republican congressional leadership in the past, but this is a new moment for the Administration and Congress. So we also have to find new and creative avenues to protest, pressure for change, and let the American public know the truth and viciousness of what is happening. We can flood the White House with our protests; we can ask Congress to rein in these unchecked OFAC actions; we can share our outrage through the press, community events, and direct actions. Some groups have chosen to undertake travel challenges as a way to claim our rights; others have chosen legal action in our courts; still others are using the arts and culture to protest.
Here are three ideas for action NOW:
1) Call the White House, 202.456.1414 (switchboard) or 202-456-1111 (comment line), or fax 202-456-2461. Tell the President to stop punishing U.S. citizens who want to travel to Cuba, visit their families in Cuba, or exchange with Cuban academics, churches, etc. Choose your favorite policy absurdity. It is our right to travel to Cuba and interact with Cubans, as we are free to do with every other country in the world.
2) Call your member of Congress (representative and both senators) to make them aware of this disturbing and growing trend of separation, isolation, and demonization in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Here’s a suggested message: “In the weeks leading up to new recommendations from the Bush Administration regarding policy toward Cuba, harsh and callous actions have been taken against academic organizations, humanitarian groups, churches, travel agencies, and others wishing to have a healthy and interactive relationship with Cubans. Some examples are: (your top two or three). I loudly protest these actions by the administration and call upon Congress to take action to put an end to unrestrained actions by the Bush Administration to unwarrantedly separate the U.S. and Cuban people. Congress has the power to end this outrage; do it now.”
To find your members’ contact information, go to http://www.senate.gov and http://www.house.gov . Or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, 202.224.3121, and ask to be transferred to your member’s office.
3) Support and sponsor a showing of our joint project with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a Cuban-American family photo exhibit, “Love, Loss, and Longing: The Impact of U.S. Travel Policy on Cuban-American Families.” See our website for details (http://www.lawg.org/countries/cuba/love-loss-longing.htm and http://www.lawg.org/countries/cuba/aac-invite.htm). You may donate on-line to the project at http://www.lawg.org/misc/Donations.htm, or send your check to LAWG (or LAWGEF for a tax deductible contribution), 424 C Street NE, Washington, DC 20002, to support the project.
Thanks for all you do.
Latin America Working Group