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ND students restricted from studying abroad in Cuba

Maddie Hanna | Friday, November 12, 2004

Due to tightened U.S. government restrictions on travel to Cuba, a group of Notre Dame students will no longer be able to make Cuba their spring break destination in March.

University General Counsel Carol Kaesebier informed theology professor Father Robert Pelton Oct. 27 that his “From Power to Communion” theology class could not proceed with their third-annual Cuba trip, scheduled for March 5-13, 2005.

“Am I surprised and unhappy with this development? The answer is yes,” Pelton said.

The new law, announced June 30, permits student travel to Cuba only if the trip lasts a minimum of 10 weeks and entails a structured educational program, formal courses of study or teaching at a Cuban academic institution, said Kaesebier.

Students may travel to Cuba for less than 10 weeks, but must be either conducting graduate research specifically related to Cuba, sponsoring a Cuban national to teach in the U.S or organizing and preparing licensed educational activities. The Cuba service trip will be one of the main University programs affected by the policy change.

Despite these allowances, Kaesebier said travel to Cuba would be strongly curtailed.

“Our ability to take trips with students is going to be severely limited,” she said. “It [the trip] has to meet the new guidelines, which is very difficult to do. Most trips aren’t 10 weeks.”

Also, Kaesebier said only Notre Dame students or faculty could be authorized to use the University’s travel, a change from the past when students from other institutions were free to participate in any Notre Dame programs that involved travel to Cuba.

Despite the strict restrictions, Pelton said he was confident the travel situation would improve at some point.

“My personal opinion is that there will be a change that will take place in the near future, next year or so, since there is so much pressure against it [the new restrictions],” Pelton said.

According to Pelton, the class will be taught as usual with a new focus on bringing Cubans to Notre Dame. Lecturers will visit throughout the spring semester.

Even though undergraduates will no longer be able to travel to Cuba, students have still shown strong interest in the class, said Pelton.

“I’m still going to take the class because I’m a Latin American studies minor, and I think it’s a worthwhile class,” said junior Ann Marie Warmenhaven, who plans to enroll in the class. “But it’s disappointing that U.S. policy can affect Notre Dame students on such a personal level.”

Pelton said the embargo would negatively affect the United States as well as Cuba.

“The most effective way to open relationships is through commerce and educational, cultural exchange,” he said. “Relations like this are not productive for Cuba or the U.S.”

Fred Licon, a political science graduate student who went on the Cuban trip last year, said the new law would limit the intellectual pursuits of Notre Dame students.

“I would be angry [if my trip was cancelled], because it truly is a nice glimpse into a different governing system,” Licon said. “It would be healthy, an intellectual excursion.”

He said visiting Cuba last year gave him a new perspective on life in the United States.

“You learn to appreciate democracy, to get a glimpse of what lies outside our bubble, not just the Notre Dame bubble,” he said. “And it’s so close – only 90 miles away.”

According to Licon, the travel restrictions were politically motivated. Wealthy, educated hard-line Cuban nationals who fled the country from 1960-80 entrenched themselves in the Miami. region and became a Republican stronghold.

“They feel that travel to Cuba is condoning Castro,” Licon said. “Would you have sent people to Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign?”

Consequently, the new restrictions served largely as “campaign fodder,” he said.

“Especially given the tight race this year, the Bush Administration felt that we needed to take our policy to a higher level,” Licon said. “Florida was a swing state, and the Latino vote was up for grabs.”