Allow Academic Exchange and Travel with Cuba

Dear President Obama: As Americans who had the privilege of studying in Cuba, we share the idealism embodied in your campaign promises about reforming Cuba policy and supporting student exchange programs. If elected, you promised to expand international student exchanges with a goal of making study abroad the norm, not the exception, for undergraduate students. You pledged to turn the page and begin to write a new chapter in US Cuba relations, after fifty years of our policy’s failure. You also promised that as President, you would take steps to liberalize relations with Cuba while keeping U.S. national interests, and not partisan or electoral interests, at the forefront. After living, studying and making friends and family in Cuba, we support these goals wholeheartedly. In 2004, President Bush took the opposite course both on Cuba policy and specifically on the ability of academic institutions to conduct programs in Cuba that would enable students from the U.S. to better understand Cuba and to interact with Cubans as ambassadors of our country and our culture. The regulations imposed by President Bush restricted or eliminated certain categories of academic travel such as short non-credit courses, intensive courses, courses not restricted to full time students from a single university taught by full time faculty of that university, and travel by high school students to Cuba. The number of U.S. students studying in Cuba rapidly declined from 2,148 in 2003-4 to 140 in 2005-6. These restrictions cut off from Cuba the influence, ideas, and energy of American students – the very people who were inspired by your campaign to give something back to our country. Some of us who signed this letter studied in Cuba prior to 2004, others were fortunate enough to have been enrolled at a university that was able to accomplish the nearly impossible task of maintaining or creating a program after the new restrictions were implemented. There is no better way to restore positive American influence and values than through education. Academic exchange programs are beneficial to both countries and are fundamental to building confidence and restoring relations between the U.S. and Cuba. We hope that academic exchange without impediments will be one step of many in the interests of both countries to work toward normalized relations. In ways that can both honor your campaign promises and reflect your upbringing, having been exposed to different countries and cultures, we urge you to immediately eliminate all restrictions on academic travel. You can do this by advising OFAC to grant non-discriminatory general licenses for all academic travel. We saw, heard and felt many valuable things during our time studying in Cuba. We have forged friendship, trust and understanding with students, professors, musicians, party officials, religious leaders, street hustlers, sugar-cane cutters, doctors, nurses, firefighters, party loyalists, dissenters, taxi-drivers, private farmers, and the list goes on and on. Travel to Cuba through academic exchange has allowed us to experience the human consequences of the situation between our two countries. Your emphasis on the youth as the future allows us to believe that we should also be a starting point in solving our differences. We are confident that you will do the right thing and put humanity over politics, hope over fear, education over isolation and allow unfettered academic exchange and support Congressional legislation to allow full travel to Cuba for all. You once said that “it is education that allows our children to hope for something else.” It is our education in Cuba and the promise of your administration that allow us to hope for something else and something better in U.S.-Cuba relations. Sincerely,

Sponsor

This letter is written and signed by people that have studied abroad in Cuba and disagree with current U.S. policy. If you have studied in Cuba and agree with the text of the letter please show your support by signing on. Please let us know where and when you studied in Cuba and how your experience affected your opinion about current U.S. policy. If you agree with the cause, but have not studied in Cuba, please contact your member of Congress and let him/her know that you support full academic exchange and full travel to Cuba. Sincerely, Former Cuba Study Abroad Students

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