Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

Ellen Creager of the Detroit Free Press recently wrote this article “Is the door slamming shut for travel from U.S. to Cuba?” and she did a great job summarizing the current state of legal travel to Cuba. She writes…

Why it is happening, nobody is sure. But the Cuba “People to People” travel program touted so highly by President Obama in 2011 is coming to a screeching halt, drowning in paperwork and non-renewed licenses for travel organizations.

Almost no organizations that got licenses from the U.S. Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) last year to sponsor trips to Cuba have received renewals. Trips that were advertised have been scrapped. Organizations are left to wait without any updates or information.

“We work with about 30 different non-profit organizations that have programs to Cuba in next 12 months, and 100% of them have not received renewals of licenses,” said Jim Friedlander, president of Academic Arrangements Abroad in New York, a travel service provider.

READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE

Insight Cuba

This company has hosted numerous Cuba travelers over dozens of Cuba trips in 2012. They have been very active with the people to people Cuba trips but they too are waiting for their license renewal. Until the license renewal is approved, they cannot book any Cuba trips so they must stop all business activity related to booking tours to Cuba.

They sent out an email blast to subscribers with this information…

Starting last year and for only the second time since 1963, Americans like yourself, were allowed to travel to Cuba legally under President Obama’s people-to-people initiative. Licensed organizations, such as Insight Cuba were granted a special license to provide this opportunity.

Unfortunately, the federal agency responsible for granting these licenses is allowing many of them, including Insight Cuba’s to expire resulting in the cancellation of trips, the loss of jobs, and financial hardship in the travel industry, which is still reeling from the economy.

If you have ever thought about traveling to Cuba, let your voice be heard and keep legal travel open.

They have asked people to sign their Save Legal Travel to Cuba petition.

Latin America Working Group

LAWG has started a support for Cuba travel with a letter writing campaign with this information…

Direct OFAC and the State Department to carry out President Obama’s Cuba policy!

Many of about 140 existing people-to-people travel licenses are languishing in the bureaucratic depths of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, pending renewal.  And we know of only three that have been renewed. In 2010-2011 we worked tirelessly to re-instate this category of travel and to we will not stand by quietly and watch it shrivel and disappear.

Take action below to tell the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Cuba Desk of the State Department to comply with regulations that President Obama authorized in 2011—and to retain the original intent of the people-to-people licenses without bureaucratic excuses and tangles!

After you enter your zip code, this text of the letter appears with a form to fill in your information…

As a person who cares about my fundamental freedom to travel the world, I’m discouraged by news that undue obstacles, bureaucratic excuses, and intentional paralysis are being applied to issuing new and renewed people-to-people licenses for travel to Cuba.  In January 2011, President Obama’s intent was clear: “to enhance contact with the Cuban people and support civil society through purposeful travel” and “to restore specific licensing of educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes people-to-people programs.” This action was supported and lauded by people across the political spectrum as a giant step in the right direction toward ending the travel ban and trade embargo on Cuba – to the benefit of the Cuba people and honoring the rights of U.S. citizens.

This commitment made by the President was reaffirmed in the Senate confirmation hearing of Roberta Jacobson as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs:  “The administration’s travel, remittance and people-to-people policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information, taking advantage of emerging opportunities for self-employment and private property, and strengthening independent civil society.”

We energetically call on you to abide by this original intent of the President’s policy, stop the over-zealous reporting requirements of the renewal application, and start issuing renewals on an expedited basis. Dozens of legitimate organizations that have had great success and valuable exchanges—and that have faithfully followed the regulations in their programs—have been waiting for months.

President Obama did the right thing. His administration should again do the right thing and issue renewals in a timely manner. If this doesn’t happen, the President’s own policy goals are threatened. Let’s move forward.

Sign up for their End the Travel Ban on Cuba email updates.

Fund for Reconciliation and Development

Executive Director John McAuliff writes “OFAC is subverting people to people travel by tying up license renewals in bureaucratic nonsense.  We were aware that Insight Cuba, National Geographic and the NEEM sustainable agriculture program were being jerked around, but Ellen Creager’s article confirmed the problem is far greater.

Given the total lack of transparency by OFAC, it is hard to know the real source of the problem.

Perhaps allowing Adam Szubin, a Bush appointee, to remain as head of OFAC made it inevitable that Cuban American Republican opponents of all travel would have unjustified influence.  Their goal may be simply to run the clock, hoping that Mitt Romney will win in November.

Perhaps in a tight election year, the White House is disposed to accommodate the extremism of Democratic Senator Bob Menendez and Representative Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.  He formerly led the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and she is head of the Democratic National Committee.

Or perhaps this is the unhealthy fruit of the deal that the Administration made with Senator Marco Rubio so he would remove his hold on the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as Assistant Secretary of State and others.  Certainly Rubio was able to reshape the language of the more restrictive revised guidelines OFAC issued this spring.

The “and/or” constructions of new trip requirements made it sound like empty symbolism, but practice suggests otherwise.  This problem would not exist if licenses had been issued for two years, as was the case in the Clinton Administration, so who was responsible for that clever move?  State, the NSC, OFAC?

The solution on licensing is very simple:

All purposeful travel must qualify for a general license based on the non-tourist affirmation of the traveler, just as is the case now for Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.

That will take OFAC out of the business of judging and second guessing motives of Americans and enable

  * undertaking student exchange programs by third party providers
  * organizing professional and avocational conferences in Cuba and participating in Cuban sponsored programs
  * performing and sharing skills by semi-professional and amateur singers, musicians, dancers and athletes
  * staying in privately owned bed and breakfasts, using public transportation and renting cars by families and back packers who can’t afford or don’t like group tours

Characteristic of the arbitrary and politicized process of OFAC, we are aware that three organizations have received renewals so far: Road Scholar (formerly Elder Hostel), Grand Circle Foundation and Center for Cuban Culture + Economy. Their programs are organized by the same three Cuban state companies that everyone else must use since OFAC requires heavily programmed group tours.

The Fund has started its own “Remove bureaucratic obstacles to Cuba travel” petition with this introductory text:

President Obama’s goal of greater engagement between Americans and Cubans is endorsed by two-thirds of our country and is the most effective way to foster democracy, friendship and mutual understanding.

However a determined minority of mostly Republican Cuban Americans opposes all travel and has successfully exploited the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to create bureaucratic obstacles to licensing and renewal of people to people programs.

The President has the power to break the log jam by authorizing a general license (no application required) for all purposeful non-tourist travel—just as he did for Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.

By ending discrimination, the President will free every American to participate in special interest guided tours and professional and cultural exchanges or to travel with their families and independently, using less expensive public transportation, rental cars and privately owned bed and breakfasts.

To encourage nationwide participation, all US travel agents and tour operators must be allowed to book transportation, accommodations and programs instead of a near monopoly of 250 mostly Cuban American Florida-based Travel Service Providers.

The text of the letter instructs the Obama administration to

“Authorize general licenses for all Americans who want to travel to Cuba for non-tourist purposes.  End OFAC’s nontransparent politicized obstructionism.”

The Fund is also planning its own Cuba trip titled “Higher Education Orientation Trip to Cuba” from October 11 to 22.

This program is currently available only for participants who qualify for the general license for full or part-time faculty and staff developing a student program for credit at a tertiary institution or who have a general license for professional research.

The Havana Note

Anya Landau French writes in her article Will OFAC Pull the Plug on People to People Travel to Cuba? “Why are none of these groups are getting their renewals? Is it a simple case of election year politics? Not likely; the Obama re-election campaign understands Cuban American dynamics better than that, especially considering that it was Obama who went after swing Cuban American voters in 2008 by offering a more pragmatic Cuba policy that would feature engagement - with families as the vanguard - over empty tough talk.”

——————————Havana Journal Comments——————————

I have signed each of the above petitions and do not support any restrictions on my right to travel freely.

If you want to go to Cuba, our sister site, CubaTrips.org, offers a Cuba Trips Calendar featuring nearly 400 legal trips to Cuba from 45 different Cuba trip providers. So, if you want to go to Cuba legally with a licensed host, you will find a Cuba trip that is perfect for you in this ebook.