Florida law bans academic travel to Cuba

Campaign News | Wednesday, 31 May 2006

A new state law will crack down on educational trips to Cuba and the use of state money to travel to any of the other four states designated as 'terrorist.'

TALLAHASSEE, Florida 31 May - Colleges and universities in Florida now are banned from using state money to travel to such countries as Cuba under a law Gov. Jeb Bush signed on Tuesday.

The Travel to Terrorist States Act also prohibits spending state money on any aspect of organizing a trip to any of the five nations listed by the US State Department as a state sponsor of terror.

Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera, who has sponsored a number of Cuba-crackdown bills, said the law was designed to stop his constituents' tax money from underwriting Fidel Castro's regime.

Castro "took a lot of people's land and freedom, and a lot of Cuban Americans feel there's an abuse of the travel laws" Rivera said. "We don't think any legitimate education work can be done in a totalitarian state."

Though the bill sailed unanimously out of the Legislature, some academics opposed it, saying it ultimately will lead to closed minds, as well as closed borders. Florida International University Professor Lisandro Perez said the law reflects "all-around demagoguery" and would be challenged in court.

"The public opinion battle is over," he said. "The `I'll see you in court' round has just begun."

Rivera said the idea for the law was inspired by the arrests earlier this year of FIU Professor Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa Alvarez, an FIU counselor, on charges of being Cuban government agents. Carlos Alvarez had traveled to Cuba several times.

FIU Professor Uva de Aragon said the United States should be encouraging research on Cuba, not preventing it. For example, she said, if the United States had more information on Iraq beforehand, it could have avoided many mistakes.

"I don't think it's a wise policy," she said. "It's important for the United States to have people who study Cuba in order for them to be informed of what happens in the country."

De Aragon, associate director of FIU's Cuban Research Institute, said she does not see a way around the law, since its scope is wide.

The travel ban takes advantage of President Bush's 2004 decision to tighten travel restrictions to Cuba. Bush required that the US Treasury Department grant a travel license to an institution of higher learning only if it held courses in Cuba that lasted at least 10 weeks.

Previously, trips were shorter and therefore less expensive.

Now, with the state law, a college or university would have to use private money to underwrite the trips. State money, including salaries, cannot be used "to implement, organize, direct, coordinate or administer, or to support the implementation, organization, direction, coordination or administration of" such a trip.

Such private institutions as the University of Miami could still organize Cuba trips if they don't directly use state money for the travel or the planning. But Rivera said he may consider legislation next year that would prohibit them from receiving any state money at all if any of their departments sponsor trips to the five states considered to be terrorist.


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