In a post-09.11.01 world Floridians, as expressed through their elected officials, felt restricting the use of taxpayer monies for academic travel to a terrorist country was warranted. ACLU lawyers and a state entity that oversees public universities in Florida say that Florida voters, and the people they elected to represent them, are wrong and have asked an unelected federal judge to overturn the law.
Two years ago, Florida legislators reasonably set out and succeeded passing a law that blocked the use of Florida tax dollars by public universities for academic travel to countries designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism. The ink was barely dry when Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed the law on May 30, 2006 when the Florida ACLU issued its first curt missive on the new law.
Contrary to most of the media accounts on this issue, the law does not create an outright ban academic travel to state sponsors of terrorism. Rather, it limits the funds that a public university could use to make such a trip. There is no prohibition for using private funds to organize and pay for such a trip as long as no taxpayer funded resources are used in any part of planning or executing of the trip.
With a state sponsor of terror just a mere ninety miles from Florida shores, it makes sense to pass such a law. The ruling Cuban Communist Party that controls Cuba may be the outgoing managers of a Cold War-era political Jurassic Park, yet it still has sufficient energy and resources, including more recent economic support from Venezuelan, to spy on the U.S., murder U.S. citizens over international airspace using its military, hide American citizens fleeing justice for murdering police officers, supporting other state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, and a long list of other un-neighborly things.
The Florida law is consistent with U.S.-Cuba policy. Besides money laundering and other illegal activities, one of the Cuban Communist Party’s main revenue generators is tourism and other travel to the island. While the Florida law is not designed to directly address this aspect of U.S. policy focused on denying funds to the Cuban regime it does complement, albeit in a minor manner, our overall goals of a peaceful transition to freedom on the communist-ruled island.
Unfettered travel to Communist Cuba by U.S. citizens has been a long-time goal of opponents of U.S. law toward the island. Proponents argue that through engagement of the communist economy political change will also take place and the “outdated” policy shall give way to a more reasonable approach. Academic travel will also help as it, so they say, will increase the free-flow of information between our two countries. In reality, any such engagement to Cuba will only serve to legitimize a system anathema to freedom and further entrench in the bureaucracy the very people that Cubans will one day seek to hold accountable for human rights abuses and other crimes against the Cuban people, among other things.
Florida State House Representative David Rivera’s initial idea was and remains a sound one, is consistent with current U.S. policy and constitutionally sound. In a post-09.11.01 world Americans do not want their tax-dollars spent on travel or any other beneficial contact to terrorist regimes.
The law does not tell the professors and students that you cannot travel, rather, it limits access to state funds and resources to do so. Other states should take a look at this law and consider adopting similar proposals as it is consistent with similar efforts by Americans throughout the U.S. to choose not to do business with terrorist regimes, the countries that support them or human rights abusers. This new Florida law as well as other approaches such divestiture efforts throughout the U.S., are sound and reasonable for a post-09.11.01 world.