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ISSUE 116 VOL 19 PUBLISHED 5/9/2003

Legislation restricts travel

By Jane Dudzinski
News Editor

Friday, May 9, 2003

A new Bush legislation hit closer to home than usual on Sunday, as the President decided to no longer allow groups of American citizens to take educational trips to Cuba.

For current St. Olaf students wondering if they will still be able to travel to Cuba next year, the answer is "yes." For those willing to travel there in years following college, the answer is "maybe."

The recent Bush legislation specifies that alumni organizations, museums and other cultural groups of American citizens can no longer take educational trips to Cuba. Professional scholars, journalists, government officials and Cuban-Americans visiting family are now the only ones who are allowed to travel there.

Pat Quade, director of International and Off-Campus Studies, explained that the new travel restrictions do not affect "credit-bearing programs that involve academically-grounded, degree-seeking students enrolled in the college."

Quade affirmed that two of the three St. Olaf-sponsored programs going to Cuba next year have already met the set requirements, and that the college has been awarded its license from the U.S. Department of Treasury.

Next year, there will be two interim programs in Cuba: English 259: Hemingway in Cuba and History 257: Revolutionary Cuba. There will also be a semester-long HECUA program, which will spend a portion of its time there.

Helen Stellmaker, coordinator of program advising and student activities in the International Studies and Off-campus office, pointed out that the new restrictions initially influenced the process of applying for a license to travel to Cuba.

"This time, they asked extra questions about the course and the itinerary of the group," Stellmaker said. "There are some different diplomatic things going on."

Bush’s main reason for this new legislation, according to a May 4 article in the New York Times, is that too many groups are there to simply have fun, instead of learn.

Quade, as well as students who have previously participated in various trips to Cuba, rebuked the idea that the St. Olaf programs were not academically focused.

"Our number one criterion is academic rigor," Quade said. "We will continue to preserve the integrity of the courses we offer there."

Jenny Vaydich ’04, who participated in the Hemingway in Cuba program in 2002, agreed that she had a valuable experience on her Interim program.

"It was a wonderful and amazing learning experience," Vaydich said. "I could have read Hemingway here, but what I learned about the people and their lifestyles there is invaluable."

Quade also acknowledged that barriers in traveling to Cuba have always existed.

"It has always been a bit of a challenge [to run programs in Cuba]," Quade said, pointing out that travelers cannot use credit cards or traveler’s checks there, and have to fly through Mexico in order to get to Cuba.

Still, Quade believes that these new restrictions will not influence the St. Olaf groups’ experiences when they travel to Cuba.

"It is a rich culture in terms of first-hand experience," Quade said. "It is one of the most non-Western places I’ve ever been to, since it has not become Americanized."

Vaydich agreed.

"It’s in the St. Olaf mission statement–the goal of perspective cannot be overlooked," Vaydich said.

Quade also said that the future of the Cuba study-abroad programs will always be uncertain.

"Until a month ago, we thought that relations between Cuba and the United States would improve. Now, however, it has gone the other way," Quade said. "Our hope is for [Cuba] to open up more without becoming globalized."

Bush’s new restrictions affecting alumni organizations, museums and other cultural groups can still influence current St. Olaf students’ experiences in the future, if students want to participate in programs such as the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL).

The recent legislation has reversed former President Clinton’s "people-to-people" exchange educational exemption, which enabled as many as 100,000 U.S. citizens to visit Cuba legally without special status as working journalists or full-time scholars since 1999.

Last year, about 35,000 people traveled to Cuba in groups varying from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. These groups, among others, have already begun to voice their dissatisfaction with the new travel legislation.

In a May 4 New York Times article, Nancy Chang, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "The new regulations spell the virtual end of travel to Cuba for ordinary Americans."

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