Mercedes Cevallos/ Contributing Writer
Even though the federal government has announced changes regarding regulations on traveling to Cuba, the University will not be changing its travel policy toward the country.
These federal travel changes allow academic travel to Cuba without requiring a special license from the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. In other words, the new regulations allow all students enrolled in degree programs at accredited United States academic institutions to access programs to study abroad in the island nation.
The new regulations were created with the purpose of facilitating travel to Cuba for U.S citizens. Despite this, acts implemented in Florida prohibit the use of University funds for travel to the Caribbean country.
In 2006, the University Senate and individual faculty members from the University and other universities in the state joined the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the constitutionality of Florida statutes 1011.90(6) and 112.061(3)(e), which essentially prohibits state universities and agencies from using funds from any source for travel or travel-related costs to countries designated by the U.S. Department of State as state sponsors of terrorism.
Sebastian Arcos, the associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at the University, explained that new travel regulations to the country were modified this year due to Barack Obama’s presidency.
“It is easier for American tourists who have no familial connection with Cuba to travel to the island by simplifying the permit process, which was complicated before,” Arcos said.
On Tuesday, April 14, President Obama informed Congress that Cuba would be removed from the state sponsor of terror list. He cited that the island nation has not demonstrated any type of support for international terrorism in a period of the last six months, according to the Associated Press.
He also added that Cuba has assured that it will refrain from demonstrating any support for any act of terrorism in the future.
When the official change of removing Cuba from the list is made, the Florida statutes proscribing the travel will no longer apply and University funds may be used for going to the island.
In addition, both countries are taking steps toward stabilizing political relations.
“This is happening as a result of the agreement reached by the two countries, announced Dec. 17, 2014,” said Arcos. “They are moving to normalize diplomatic relations [and the] United States announced to eliminate most of the restrictions to Cuba.”
Javier González, a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications, agrees with Arcos about the changes to diplomatic relations.
“The political and social relations among Cuba and the United States are getting closer,” González said. “We are seeing changes in the travel restrictions to the island. Americans can go and do tourism.”
But González believes that this is not the time for modification to the statutes in Florida or to the University’s current policy.
“I think that FIU must keep the same policy regarding travel funds,” he said.
Stephanie Urigüen, a senior psychology major, supports the University’s policy as well.
“I believe that the Obama administration is bringing changes for both nations,” Urigüen said. “However, it is not the right time to invest or use the University funds for scholar trips to the island.”
Denisse Díaz, a graduate student of the Department of Psychology, thinks there is more to be done.
“There is still a lot of work to do concerning to the relations between Cuba and U.S.,” she said.
Nevertheless, she’s optimistic about the changes.
“The travel regulations are changing for U.S citizens, but FIU still needs to analyze about trips to countries that are considered dangerous, especially for students,” said Díaz. “Maybe in the future this situation is going to change in a positive way.”
Other students also commented.
“I support FIU’s policy respecting to the travel to Cuba,” said Cesar Alcides, a graduate student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. “It is too soon to use University funds for these kind of events.”
Alcides noted the importance of understanding the policies of our University and the fact that travelling to the island under the present conditions is not appropriate.
“As a student, it is important to know how the University system works [regarding] these funds,” he said. “It will be interesting to travel to Cuba and know its history, but this is not the time.”