It took just two weeks for the Obama administration to publish the final rules that provide the regulatory framework for expanded travel rights to Cuba along with new opportunities for all Americans to send remittances to the Cuban people.
Although the policy change had been anticipated since August, once the decision was announced the Obama administration demonstrated no uncertainty in getting the new regulations out and increasing opportunities for travel to Cuba.
After freeing Cuban Americans to visit the island and provide financial support for their Cuban families on an unlimited basis, the number of Americans visiting Cuba tripled to at least 300,000. Experts believe that the new rules will have a similar impact.
Last week, we cited statements of support from dissidents in Cuba, the Cuba Study Group, CANF, the Archbishop of Miami, Human Rights Watch, the National Council of Churches, farm and travel organizations, NGOs that advocate for travel rights, and Members of Congress like Senator John Kerry and Rep. Jeff Flake.
This week, the administration continued to receive applause from diverse sources eager to take advantage of the reforms.
The Alliance of Baptists – whose churches have partnerships with sister congregations in Cuba – embraced the changes and said “we anticipate the day when Congress removes all travel restrictions and opens travel to Cuba for all U.S. citizens.”
The editorial board of the Oklahoma Daily said the move “has great potential to improve relations between the U.S. and the small communist island.”
Travel operators in Florida and elsewhere reported a surge of interest among Americans wanting to travel to Cuba. “The announcement has generated great interest in going,” said Mayra Alonso speaking for Marazul. “It’s been crazy,” said Leonardo Echevarria of legalcubatravel.com. Insight Cuba, which calls itself the leading provider of legal people-to-people educational travel, announced it would apply to renew its license.
A little poll by the Jersey Journal came forward with a small sample but a big result: 87% support for the new travel and remittance regulations (news bulletin for Senator Menendez?).
The new travel activity generated by the president’s announcement comes at an important time in Cuban life, where economic reforms are allowing average Cubans to open businesses and create a living for themselves. As the Associated Press reported this week, Julio Cesar Hidalgo is preparing to open a “stand-up pizza joint.”
Hidalgo told reporters: “It’s not going to make me rich, but I will be working in my own home and I’ll be my own boss.”
Not everyone will benefit from the reforms. For example, while colleges and universities in forty-nine U.S. states could expand their study abroad programs to include Cuba, a 2006 state law prohibits institutions in Florida from using state funds or tapping into their own budgets for travel to “terror states” including Cuba.
Think about this. The changes offered by the President are a departure from the past. Before, the most committed supporters of the embargo imposed their views about who should travel to Cuba on everyone. Virtually no one could make the trip. When President Obama opened up Cuban American travel, it opened the door for families to travel to Cuba, and no one exercised a veto. Now, because of Obama’s bold action, there will be an upsurge in non-tourist travel by thousands of Americans from across our country.
The American people will benefit from this opportunity and so will citizens and entrepreneurs across Cuba. Someday this freedom to travel will belong to everyone – including students in Florida and the Cuban people. In the meanwhile, we commend the Administration for continuing to move forward to modernize U.S. policy. Read the rest of this entry »