January 14th, President Obama signed an executive order, and on the 28th of January it went into effect. It was thrown out with the trash on a Friday afternoon, a safe time after the mid-term elections, in order to protect various members of congress from voter backlash. It has received little to no publicity, and on NYT it couldn’t be found by searching for “Cuba” until a week or so after the fact. Every piece I’ve read on it has reported few facts and even less analysis. So what does it really change?
- All airports in the US can apply to send direct flights to Cuba. The direct flights will still land where they always do (Jose Marti airport outside of Habana), but now Miami is not one of the only options.
- There is no time limit. Before, it was a 12 week minimum stay for undergrads, making short-term faculty-led programs impossible, which have greatly grown in popularity in recent years in the world of American university-level study abroad. 3 months for a semester abroad doesn’t seem unreasonable, but for many college students, that’s a big commitment. And once you’ve spent three months using Cuban showers, eating Cuban food and sleeping on Cuban beds, you will seriously value what a 4 week program could do for Cuba.
- Pursuant to the above point, Northeastern University is sending a Dialogue to Cuba this Summer 1. Apply!
- Speaking of faculty, previous restrictions meant that students had to have a full-time, benefits-eligible university rep with them throughout the duration. That means you need a professor willing to spend 12 weeks in Cuba every year or semester, or have multiple and have them rotate, or do it like NU and ship a rotating cast down there. That also meant paying all of those people and buying out their courseloads, an expensive business. Now, you still need someone down there, but they no longer have to be a full-time staff member, opening up the door to TAs. Are you reading this, OISP and Profe? That means you can send a qualified, experienced upperclassman or recent grad down there. One you can trust and who speaks pretty good Cubañol. I’ll wait by the phone.
- Non-Cuban-Americans can send remittances of up to $500/fiscal quarter. Before, people like me could send nothing. Now, as long as I’m not sending it to Raúl and other party higher-ups, I can send $500 every 3 months, in case I hit the lottery or something.
- Also, the same rule applies to Cuban-Americans, which means the legal limit for remittances is up by $200 and remittances are no longer limited to family members.
Don’t listen to the bunk about students and church groups “now” being allowed to travel–that has always been the case, under a license. That license will just have fewer rules attached to it, as outlined above.
For those of you who have been keeping tabs on US-Cuba politics, this is basically reverting back to the old Clinton days of the “People to People” program, and fully un-does everything G.W. Bush did. It isn’t everything, but Obama is basically doing all that he can. I think it’s worth noting, yet again, that Obama cannot lift the economic sanctions (commonly known as the embargo or “el bloqueo”) and that only Congress can. And of course, this is a friendly reminded that he signed an executive order to close Guantanamo that is now three years overdue, but congress has done a neat little job of blocking any and all funds to do that, effectively knocking the President’s legs out from under him.
So, yes, I do think Obama is keeping his promises about Cuba. Now let’s see if congress can work up the guts to do anything other than slow him down.