In my day I’ve seen a lot of creative uses of U.S. government general licensing authority for travel to Cuba. But the latest batch of trips that have sprung up since the Obama Administration liberalized the Cuba travel regulations, well, might as well just call it tourism. Keep in mind that travel to Cuba by Americans is very restricted, or is supposed to be. Tourism travel is explicitly banned, but that is not stopping some folks from interpreting the Cuba Assets Control Regulations (CACR) regulations to the Nth legal degree. As a matter of policy, such travel is clearly bunk, inconsistent with current statutes. Political voyeurism.
Want to “discover Cuba’s fascinating people and culture,” well you can now book a trip through one of the largest non-profit entities in the United States, National Geographic. The equestrian 1%ers, if they are so inclined to invest time and money on this trip, can learn about an “innovative project in promoting equine care.” Really?! Let’s hope National Geographic lawyers have done their due diligence. Among other things, any use (i.e., trafficking) of properties in Cuba that were owned by U.S. persons could generate political and legal interest by claim holders here in the United States.
Then there is the taxpayer-funded Smithsonian Institution that, for a mere $5,450 you are promised a “10-day cultural exchange program in Cuba includes research areas where Smithsonian curators have collaborated with their Cuban counterparts.” If you have more money to spend, more will be tacked on to your junket. Five thousand dollars to travel to Cuba?! I think Smithsonian lawyers may have some explaining to do when its Congressional overseers at the Committee on House Administration as well as the Senate Rules Committee start to ask serious questions about these trips.
But the one particular trip that really caught my attention was a journey sponsored by the Hofstra University School of Law. For about $4,500, law students will travel to Cuba to participate in a class, “field trips” included, titled “Cuba Field Study: Export Laws and Export Controls.” ¿Que? Is this serious? A quick scan of the schedule and you will soon see. For example, on their first full day in Cuba, April Fool’s Day no less, students are scheduled to do the following:
Field Trips: Havana walking tour in the morning, lunch, regional tour on a bus in the afternoon, and visit to the Hemingway Museum
That’s it. What about the class time on export controls on Day One? Not sure what touring the Hemingway Museum has to do with export controls.
For those of your who do not follow these issues on a regular basis, some background is in order. Cuba is a state sponsor of terrorism. Has been since 1982. You can learn more about why countries are added to this list by visiting the State Department’s website. There are legal and political consequences stemming from the designation and, fortunately, it is a small list of countries. Cuba also also has been subject to comprehensive economic sanctions for some time that, among other things, clearly ban tourism travel.
Why a law school thinks teaching a class on export controls in a state sponsor of terrorism is a good idea is beyond me. Are Cuban regime officials going to be allowed to sit in? Are U.S. citizens going to educate the regime on how our export and sanctions law operate? Nowhere on the law school website does it clearly say that Cuba is under a comprehensive embargo pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA), among many other federal laws. This tells me that folks at the law school oppose U.S. policy and will likely use the venue to mock U.S. laws or, worse, teach folks about the Constitutional “loopholes” that can be used to get around U.S. laws.
No one who travels to Cuba from the United States is allowed to see the truth about what life is like on the island. Travelers are shielded from the political beatings of Cuban opposition leaders. Americans are not allowed anywhere near Cuba’s political jails where dissidents and freedom fighters rot away and are tortured. Child labor and prostitution, ignored. The regime’s anti-American stance is modified at all times to attract more and more dollars that are desperately needed to remain in power.
All of these “educational” and “people to people” excursions to Cuba are nothing but tourism travel. There are many more groups planning similar trips. They should not be allowed under U.S. law or the regulations. With regards to the export controls seminar it is, on so many levels, simply reckless. Cuba is a Potemkin Village 90 miles from the United States. Americans will see what the regime wants them to see. Nothing else. If you want to learn about U.S. export control laws, a very important topic at that, save your money and come to DC for a few weeks.
P.S., if you happen to be one of the law students at Hofstra and you cannot afford the trip, the law school is facilitating financing, courtesy of the U.S. Government taxpayer, through the federal student loan program