Friday, 14 January 2011

Holiday in Havana? Not yet.

Today the White house announced that President Obama has " directed the Secretaries of State, Treasury, and Homeland Security to take a series of steps" to ease some restrictions on travel to Cuba by "US persons", i.e US citizens and permanent residents (Green Card holders).

Does this mean that, in general, travel from the US to Cuba will now (or soon) be permitted?

Sadly, no.

The devil is in the details.

According to today's announcement, a "general license" will be issued for travel to Cuba sponsored by religious organizations. It's not yet clear if that will include only group travel, or if the general license will cover individual travel as long as it is "sponsored" by such an organization.

Another general license will be issued for travel sponsored by "accredited institutions of higher education ... for course work for academic credit".

A "general license" means that, as long as your travel complies with the terms of the license, you can just go -- you don't need to apply individually to the government for further permission.

"Specific licenses" will, at least in theory -- it remains to be seen how closely applications for such licenses will be scrutinized -- be available for a wider range of educational exchanges, seminars, conferences, clinics, and workshops, and for "a greater scope of journalistic activities", whatever that means. Applying to the government for a license for a specific trip or event is time-consuming and complicated, however, and it's easy for the government to exercise a "pocket veto" through delay, requests for additional documentation, or the like.

Notably absent from any of this is any change, under either a general or a specific license, in the rules prohibiting tourism or independent (unprogrammed, individual) travel.

The sole exception would appear to be travel sponsored by religious organizations. Depending on how the general license defines the required sponsorship, it's possible that some religious organizations will be able to "sponsor" anyone they choose to travel to Cuba. But why should the legality of travel to Cuba depend on religious, to the exclusion of secular, sponsorship?

And if the goal is "people to people" exchange, why does the US government want to limit travel to organized groups and programs -- the contexts in which it is easiest to control what travellers see and learn -- rather than allowing and encouraging independent, individual travel that makes censorship or control more difficult?

Link | Posted by Edward on Friday, 14 January 2011, 16:20 ( 4:20 PM) | TrackBack (0)
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