Obama Administration May Lighten Tyrannical Cuba Travel Restrictions
Officials of the Obama administration, who asked not to be identified because they aren't authorized to discuss the policy before it was announced, said that the Obama Administration was set to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba for academic, religious and cultural groups.
It is hoped that the change in policy will foster robust exchanges between the United States and Cuba, allowing groups including universities, sports teams, museums and chambers of commerce to share abilities as well as life experiences.
In early 2009, President Obama lifted restrictions on travel and money transfer only for Americans with relatives on the island. Some administration officials still see the changes as too politically risky and revisions could still be made.
Others stated the policy change would be announced before Congress returns from their mid-September break, to avoid a political backlash from reactionary groups within the Cuban American lobby, backed by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey. These groups are always opposed to any softening towards Cuba, unless the island would agree to once again place itself under the US heel. A growing number of polls, however, show that Cuban-Americans have had a change of attitude toward Cuba and have softened.
In effect, the new policy would expand current channels for travel to Cuba, rather than create new ones. Academic, religious and cultural groups now travel under very tight rules. For example, students wanting to study in Cuba are required to stay at least 10 weeks. And only accredited universities can apply for academic visas.
Under the new policy, such restrictions would be eased. And academic institutions, including research and advocacy groups and museums, would be able to seek licenses for as long as two years.
The new policy would also allow Cuban-Americans to visit families there as often as they like and to send them unlimited funds. An estimated 1.5 million Americans who have family members in Cuba will be affected. Other Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba, but only if they qualify through certain cultural, educational and other special programs.
Several experts on Cuba policy have speculated that official notice could come ahead of this month's Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.
The travel and monetary restrictions stem from the embargo, put in place in 1962 after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. President Jimmy Carter allowed the travel ban to lapse.
Ronald Reagan reinstituted the travel ban with some exceptions. Under President Clinton, Cuban-Americans could visit family once a year. George W. Bush's policy was at one point even looser, but in 2004, he tightened the rules, allowing family trips once every three years, and narrowing the definition of who qualified as family. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and grandparents qualified, but uncles, aunts and cousins did not.
The administration is also planning to expand allowable flights to Cuba. Currently only 3 cities, Miami, New York and Los Angeles are permitted. Furthermore, all Americans, not just Cuban Americans, will be allowed to send funds or charitable donations to Cuba.
Some analysts said the measures were partly a response to pressure from an alliance of liberal political groups and conservative business associations led by Senator John Kerry, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who have been trying to get Congress to lift all restrictions on travel to Cuba. Others described it as a reaction to President Castro’s decision last month to begin releasing "political" prisoners.
A bill introduced this year in Congress would allow unlimited travel for any purpose by Americans. Sen. Richard Lugar, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote President Obama this week calling for change toward Cuba and suggested that his administration open a dialogue about how to treat Cuba as part of the international community.
U.S Rep. Barbara Lee (D., Calif.) spoke with journalists along with fellow congressmen in Havana on Friday. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus traveled to Cuba in another sign of congressional interest in easing the inhuman, ill-advised trade embargo and travel restrictions.