UI Cuba program banned

University students hoping to study abroad in Cuba may never get their chance.

As of June 30, the Office of Foreign Assets Control within the Department of the Treasury banned educational travel to Cuba lasting less than ten weeks. The change was part of an interim final rule that put the University’s Cuba program in jeopardy because the program is exclusively offered during the four weeks of Summer Session I.

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The rule requires students traveling to Cuba to be enrolled at an institution licensed by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and prohibits students from participating in a Cuban program outside their universities. The rule allowed for a comment period between June 30 to August 16 so complaints and concerns could be filed for review.

Brookly Mclaughlin, spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, said the comments will be reviewed and changes to the restrictions could occur.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control believes the ban will reduce cash flow to Cuba that partially funds Fidel Castro’s regime and will ultimately hasten Cuba’s transition to a democracy. According to estimates found in Chapter 1 of a report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, between $700 million and $1.2 billion flows from the United States to Cuba each year.

Mclaughlin said it is estimated that monetary assets flowing into Cuba will be cut by one-third after the new policy is in place.

“The new regulations will reduce it from between $470 million and $804 million a year,” Mclaughlin said in an e-mail. “This most recent round of strengthened measures will help choke off travel-related dollars flowing into Castro’s coffers, which he uses to ramp up his regime and further oppress the Cuban people.”

Jeremy Geller, University director of study abroad programs, sent letters to the Department of the Treasury and to U.S. congressmen to protest the changes. Geller said he explained how the changes affect the University and how they do not appear consistent with the administration’s “stated goals.”

“I feel they (changes) are too restrictive and limit the exchange of ideas,” Geller said.

Mclaughlin said educational exchange is important for the benefit of both the Cuban and American people, especially since the Castro regime subjects the island to an information embargo.

“The strengthened regulations help ensure that legitimate, educational exchange continues, but closes loopholes that, when abused, sent hard currency into the Castro regime by disguising tourism as educational travel,” she said in an e-mail.

Geller said students should be allowed to visit Cuba and see for themselves why the government strives for regime change.

Meghan Horbas, sophomore in LAS, traveled to Cuba this summer in the Havana study abroad program before the regulations went into effect. Horbas said the restriction will prove detrimental to relations with Cuba and students will miss out on a unique opportunity.

“It was eye-opening and numbing to experience a communist, socialist country,” Horbas said.

Antonio Reyes, graduate teaching assistant in the Spanish-Italian-Portuguese department, arrived at the University when the Havana program was inactive because of low enrollment. Reyes reactivated the program in 2003 by recruiting more students. He said the University is one of the few institutions in the United States licensed to offer a Cuba program.

“It is censorship to decide who can travel and where,” Reyes said.

Jenna Leving, junior in LAS, also participated in the Havana program this summer and said that her trip helped her realize how important it was to reconcile with Cuba.

“It was an experience of a lifetime,” she said.