BAN ON ACADEMIC TRAVEL TO CUBA WILL SOON BE LAW-Andrew Stelzer

05/24/06

Governor Bush is expected to sign a law any day now, which will restrict students or professors from using university or other state funds to travel to countries accused of supporting terrorism. There are only 5 countries on the State Departments list—and 4 of them are raising hardly any concern—Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. But the 5th country on the list of terrorist states is Cuba, and Florida’s academic community is concerned that their ability to learn about a country that’s an important part of Florida’s history will handicapped, and the academic reputation of Florida’s universities will suffer as well. Miami Area state representative David Rivera was the main sponsor of the bill; he says it was brought on by a criminal case earlier this year.

ACT-Rivera “A few months ago a couple of professors were indicted for espionage….people sponsoring terrorist regimes�

Academics have raised objections about the restrictions on traveling to other countries on the list, but Cuba has been the main focus. Maura Barrios was formerly the assistant director of the University of South Florida’s Latin American and Caribbean Initiative. She traveled to Cuba 3 times as part of her academic research.

ACT-Maura “It seems that as we are so connected to Florida, we should be more connected, and to have a legislators that seems to be academic…I don’t know why people want us to know more than less..�

Rivera, who is Cuban American himself, first introduced the bill in 2004

ACT-Rivera “It was important…terrorist regimes�

But the accuracy of labeling Cuba as a terrorist state has always been questioned, and The American Association of University Professors has come out against the bill, as has the university system chancellor. Barrios says the law will be devastating to many of the renowned Latin American and Caribbean studies programs throughout the state, one of which she was formerly involved with.

ACT-Maura “You can not have a legitimate Latin American studies program without cuba..you might as well close the doors, and you might as well close the doors..it happens to be a part of local history. Tampa and Cuba and fl and Cuba are connected�

Barrios says her trips opened up her eyes to how Cuba in inaccurately presented by the media and US government, and she believes it helped expose Cubans to more accurate information about the US.

ACT-Maura “I was invited to talk about the history of Cubans of Tampa. I think I was one of the first people to be doing that..first 40 years I was the only one who was able to talk about the history of Cubans of tampa..it was an exchange of information..�

But representative Rivera says the concerns of academics are unfounded.

ACT-Rivera “Nothing prevents them from travelling, you just cant use resources..’

ACT-Rivera “Any legitimate activities should be able to get private funding..�

But Barrios says funding for academics is extremely hard to come by, and she sees the law as a propaganda tool to further demonize Cuba.

ACT-Maura “I learned that Cuba values culture arts dance..the medical facilities…�

ACT-Maura “I remember students were allowed to travel..we sent students archeology, geology, and I was just amazed at how every one of those students was transformed…Latin American or Cuban students would go , their family would end up going and rediscovering themselves�

Barrios says the law is strictly a political tool being wielded by a politician trying to please his vocal base of Cuban exiles, who are hardly a majority of the states population. Rivera does not shy away from those accusations.

ACT-Rivera “Everyone has to be responsive to their electorate..�

The law does not specify what the penalties would be for violators.

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