BAN ON ACADEMIC TRAVEL TO CUBA WILL SOON BE LAW-Andrew Stelzer05/24/06
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 listâ€”and 4 of them are raising hardly any concernâ€”Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. But the 5th country on the list of terrorist states is Cuba, and Floridaâ€™s academic community is concerned that their ability to learn about a country thatâ€™s an important part of Floridaâ€™s history will handicapped, and the academic reputation of Floridaâ€™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 â€œA few months ago a couple of professors were indicted for espionageâ€¦.people sponsoring terrorist regimesâ€?
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 Floridaâ€™s Latin American and Caribbean Initiative. She traveled to Cuba 3 times as part of her academic research.
ACT-Maura â€œIt seems that as we are so connected to Florida, we should be more connected, and to have a legislators that seems to be academicâ€¦I donâ€™t know why people want us to know more than less..â€?
Rivera, who is Cuban American himself, first introduced the bill in 2004
ACT-Rivera â€œIt was importantâ€¦terrorist regimesâ€?
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 â€œYou 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 connectedâ€?
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 â€œI 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..â€?
But representative Rivera says the concerns of academics are unfounded.
ACT-Rivera â€œNothing prevents them from travelling, you just cant use resources..â€™
ACT-Rivera â€œAny legitimate activities should be able to get private funding..â€?
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 â€œI learned that Cuba values culture arts dance..the medical facilitiesâ€¦â€?
ACT-Maura â€œI remember students were allowed to travel..we sent students archeology, geology, and I was just amazed at how every one of those students was transformedâ€¦Latin American or Cuban students would go , their family would end up going and rediscovering themselvesâ€?
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 â€œEveryone has to be responsive to their electorate..â€?
The law does not specify what the penalties would be for violators.