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US: int’l educators condemn Cuba rollback

International educators have condemned Donald Trump’s reinstatement of some of the US restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba, in what has been described as a “major setback” for international relations between the two countries.

Donald Trump signs the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States' Toward CubaDonald Trump signs the National Security Presidential Memorandum on Strengthening the Policy of the United States' Toward Cuba. Photo: White House/Shealah Craighead.

The changes include "a detrimental restriction for Americans traveling to the island for educational purposes"

On June 16, President Trump signed a memorandum instigating the development of a new policy framework for US relations with Cuba.

Some study abroad and academic exchange will continue to be allowed under the rule change, as 12 categories of travel to Cuba – including some educational activities and professional research and meetings – will remain permissible.

“Today is a major setback for international relation”

Travel to Cuba as part of a formal, credit-bearing program and for academic research should therefore not be affected by the planned changes.

But one key policy change is that individuals will no longer be able to travel to Cuba for self-guided non-academic educational trips.

In March 2016, Barack Obama endorsed people-to-people trips to Cuba provided individuals undertake “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities”.

But in a rollback of these people-to-people exchanges, travel for non-academic educational purposes will be limited to organised group travel – which will be subject to these same conditions.

The limitations on individual travel are a “detrimental restriction for Americans traveling to the island for educational purposes”, commented Ilir Zherka, executive director of the Alliance for International Exchange.

“The administration’s argument for cancelling this travel category is the erroneous assumption that people-to-people exchanges do not help the Cuban people and instead only benefits the Cuban government.

“People-to-people interactions, however, allow for increased cultural understanding between Cubans and Americans, helping to overcome mistrust between the two nations,” he commented.

Announcing his intention to tighten regulations last week, Trump also said the government would increase scrutiny on visits to Cuba to ensure people are travelling only for permitted purposes.

The order also aims to restrict payments to companies owned by Cuba’s security forces.

Speaking in Miami, Trump said the rollback of restrictions on travel to Cuba had resulted in “more oppression” by its political regime.

“Regressing to past restrictions will only pull America back into a 50-year-old failed policy of isolation”

“I am cancelling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” he said. “I am announcing a new policy, just as I promised in the [presidential election] campaign.”

However, the move sparked condemnation from international education stakeholders including NAFSA, which has advocated for the restoration of ties with Cuba for more than a decade.

“Today is a major setback for international relations, NAFSA, our allies and the Cuban and American people,” commented Jill Welch, deputy executive director for public policy at NAFSA.

“Regressing to past travel and trade restrictions with Cuba will only pull America back into a 50-year-old failed policy of isolation with the island nation and restrict our ability to learn from one another,” she added.

Reiterating the association’s calls on congress to permanently remove restrictions on travel and trade to Cuba, Welch added that travel to any nation “is a basic human right because after all, travel is inherently educational”.

The announcement was also condemned by the UN World Tourism Organisation.

“This represents a step backwards and a strong attack on the freedom of travel,” commented UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai.

“This decision will have limited impact on Cuba’s tourism development, yet it will substantially affect the US economy and American jobs,” he added, citing the “many US companies” that have begun to invest in and do business with Cuba.

“Many US companies have started to invest in and do business with Cuba in view of the immense potential of Cuban tourism, which other countries will surely continue to benefit from,“ he added.

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