On Monday, a Daily Skiff article reported that the university may consider signing a petition asking President Barack Obama to lift restrictions against study abroad programs to Cuba, provided the TCU Jazz Band’s six-day trip to the island next month goes smoothly. The band will be one of the first college groups in decades to visit the communist country since the U.S. government heavily restricts travel to Cuba.
Imposed in 1960, a trade embargo restricting trade and travel between the two countries has remained in place to this day with only a few lapses in an otherwise strict barrier between the U.S. and Cuba. Under the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, the embargo will only be lifted when Cuba undergoes a democratic transition.
While our government’s justification may seem sound, one cannot expect Cuba to be blind to the double standards of our foreign policy. Americans can travel to Vietnam and North Korea today despite their communist governments, so there’s no reason Cuba should be singled out. In fact, the international community took a stand against the barriers earlier this year by overwhelmingly opposing the embargo in the U.N. General Assembly by a vote 187-2 with three abstentions. It is the 19th straight year the U.N. has opposed the embargo because it has contributed to poverty in Cuba, and it’s time our government got the message.
Our government imposed the embargo in response to Cuba nationalizing all U.S. businesses in its country without compensation.
One way to bring about change is to allow study abroad programs in Cuba. Academic travel restrictions were put on Cuba in 2004 and since then, 28 universities (not including TCU) have signed a petition to lift the ban and allow study abroad programs to Cuba to resume. The youth of the academic travel ban relative to the rest of the embargo, coupled with the strong momentum against it, should make for a good first step in gradually eliminating the ban and allowing students to explore Cuba and its unique culture once again.
Despite easing the restrictions on Cuban travel last year, Obama extended the embargo on Cuba for another year. The embargo, dubbed the Trading With The Enemy Act, is the first clue why it doesn’t work. Cuba cannot be expected to negotiate with the U.S. when it is labeled an enemy yet is expected to engage in unilateral reforms before anything is done by the U.S.
The U.S. allowing study abroad programs to Cuba to resume could be the catalyst that inspires greater mutual understanding and respect for Cuba’s people and culture and eventually lead to a full lifting of the trade barriers that have been in place for too long.