By Erica O’Young | The Stanford Daily
Stanford and Cuba won’t be exchanging students and faculty anymore, after the University’s government-issued license to send travelers expires on May 31.
On March 24, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control eliminated the special licenses educational travel program, originally promoted by the Clinton administration. Announced in October 1995, the “people-to-people exchange” granted an educational license to freelance journalists and persons traveling for professional research, educational, religious or humanitarian reasons. The license exempted them from the U.S. embargo on trade and financial relations with Cuba.
In August 1999, the Stanford Alumni Association’s Travel / Study Program was granted its first special license to visit Cuba. Upon approval of academic credit and faculty endorsement, any Stanford student, alumni or employee could visit Cuba on an individual visit or along with other participants in annual trips organized by Stanford’s Travel / Study Program. Last month, the Treasury Department notified the program that Stanford’s current license, which expires May 31, will not be renewed. Stanford’s Travel / Study Program annually supports 160 to 180 Stanford affiliates in individual and group-organized trips to Cuba.
“It makes me really sad,” commented Whitney Stull, ‘99, a member of the Young Alumni Association who visited Cuba from March 29 to April 17 through the program. “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much before . . . It was just a really amazing combination of having our [accompanying] professor’s lectures for a macro-level view and the people we talked to in Cuba for a micro-level view,” he said.
The elimination of the educational licenses is part of the Bush administration’s tightening of its Cuba policy, in light of Cuban President Fidel Castro’s April crackdown on Cuban dissidents and heightened U.S. suspicions about Cuba’s biological weapon capabilities.
Another reason for ending the educational licenses is the Bush administration’s belief that travelers often used them for vacation, not education.
“The license was being abused,” Taylor Griffin, spokesman for the U.S. Treasury Department, told The New York Times last week. “It undermined the intention of the U.S. sanctions against Cuba, which are to deprive the Castro regime of the financial wherewithal to continue to oppress its people.”
The nation’s prominent cultural institutions are expected to be the hardest hit by the new regulations. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the Harvard University Art Museums and the National Trust for Historic Preservation regularly organize trips to Cuba for their members.
Duncan Beardsley, ‘59, director of Stanford’s Travel / Study Program, expressed his frustration at the loss of what he believes is an invaluable learning experience.
“The greatest value was that anybody in the Stanford community was given the opportunity to experience Cuba and . . . reach their own conclusions about the people in Cuba, about communism, et cetera,” Beardsley said. “And more important than anything they would learn about Cuba is what they would learn about the U.S.”
He added, “I’m a little frustrated that our government is taking the opportunity away from us, and I’m wondering what they have to hide.”
Participants of Stanford’s Travel / Study program conveyed their disappointment in seeing the Cuba trips end.
“Travel is one of the most incredible educational opportunities anyone can have,” Stull emphasized. “It’s a shame that people won’t be able to have that incredible educational exploration. It goes a long way toward discovering what it means to be American in the world context.”