Saturday, February 12, 2011

Bipartisan Congressional Letter on Guidelines

February 9, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

The Honorable Timothy F. Geithner
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20005

Dear Secretary Clinton and Secretary Geithner,

We write to express our strong support for President Obama's recent announcement easing travel restrictions for university-based educational travel, religious travel, and "people to people" educational travel to Cuba, as well as easing restrictions on certain remittances and other reforms. We are pleased to see this positive step and believe that enhancing contact between U.S. citizens and the Cubans is in the interest of both the United States and Cuban people.

On January 28th, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued final regulations to implement the President's directive.  We have been in touch with constituencies potentially affected by the new regulations; they are pleased with the final regulations and look forward enthusiastically to being able to organize educational, religious, and people to people trips. They look forward to the development of internal guidelines and the actual implementation of the regulations.

In our view, the internal guidelines implementing the regulations should be flexible and contribute to real increases in purposeful educational, academic, and religious travel to Cuba; there should not be excessive restrictions or undue regulatory burdens that make travel more difficult. This time next year, the measure of success should be the size of the increase in purposeful religious, educational, and cultural travel. We hope these principles will guide the implementation of the regulations.  We offer the following specific comments.

Educational Travel

We are very pleased to see the rules providing a general license to accredited institutions of higher education to sponsor travel to Cuba for for-credit course work. We believe that academic and student travel to Cuba broadens minds and stimulates dialogue with Cubans, and there are high levels of interest in sponsoring student study trips to Cuba. In many ways, these are the more straightforward changes to implement, and the opportunity to utilize general licenses reduces the regulatory burden and provides much needed flexibility. As OFAC looks toward formalizing guidelines for the implementation of the educational travel reforms, we wish to raise a potential clarification. Many educational institutions arrange study abroad programs through established third party providers of educational travel. We hope that the licensing process permits these kinds of contractual relationships to work, so that travel programs can expand easily.

Religious Travel

We support the rules providing a general license for religious organizations to take their members and staff to Cuba for religious activities. As we are sure you are aware, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor's 2010 International Religious Freedom Report noted that, though significant restrictions remain in place, many religious groups in Cuba reported improvements in religious freedom and "many religious organizations reported a significant rise in membership as well as a revival in interest in religion..." The rapid growth among Cuban churches represents a new opportunity for U.S. churches and ecumenical institutions to relate to and support the Cuban people. As such, the reforms providing both a general license for U.S. religious organizations to undertake religious activity in Cuba as well as provide unlimited remittances in support of religious activities to religious organization on the island are timely. There will likely be a significant increase in travel that supports religious communities and groups in Cuba, and this would be very positive.

In restoring religious travel under a general license, we hope the Administration does so without also restoring some of the historical hurdles that have been associated with these licenses. We feel strongly that the general licenses should be available to national denominational offices and headquarters, along with individual congregations. National church bodies often have extensive contacts, relationships, and mission engagement with churches in Cuba and the Cuban people.  
Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles on religious travel by national church bodies and ecumenical organizations could diminish the ability for churches to carry out their core missions and can be problematic with respect to maintaining relationships with their counterpart churches in Cuba.
Allowing national religious organizations to utilize general licenses for appropriate activities would appear on its face consistent with the overall goal of the President's reforms and would avoid the problems in the previous regulations which unnecessarily limited religious travel, and sometimes discriminated among religious groups.

People to People Programs

In addition to establishing general licenses for religious and university-based travel educational travel, the new regulations permit specific licenses for non-credit educational exchanges carried out by organizations that sponsor and organize "people to people" programs. Early last year, the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs' Public Diplomacy: Strengthening U.S. Engagement with the World presentation indicated that the Department is seeking to "expand public diplomacy platforms and venues for direct engagement with foreign audiences to present a new face to foreign publics" and to "reinvigorate cultural programming to drive engagement and collaboration." For too long, U.S.-Cuba policy has resembled a hodgepodge of one-off approaches and anachronistic policies lacking effectiveness.
Reforming U.S.-Cuba policy to return to people to people exchanges clearly fits within the above goal and it is encouraging to see strategies that are known to work in other parts of the world readily applied to Cuba. For example, even while facing the diplomatic challenges related to the Cold War, the U.S. allowed exchanges of students, scientists, cultural figures, and scholars with Communist countries.

We strongly believe that the specific licenses granted for this kind of travel should be granted to a broad range of institutions with educational missions and/or a track record of taking groups to other countries for educational purposes. We urge OFAC to have as expansive a view as practicable with regard to who qualifies for a specific license under the restored people to people category for non-degree granting institutions. This is where the Administration can truly broaden people to people interactions by starting from a presumption that, in the absence of clear evidence that the proposal is related to tourism activities, a license should be granted. Alternatively, with the devil in the details, the President's laudable efforts to further a policy of engagement between the Cuban people and U.S. citizens could be hobbled by a negative predisposition toward people to people programs seeking approval.

Further, we urge that the specific licenses are granted to each institution for multiple trips that fall within the people to people rubric. Similar language in effect from 1999 through 2003 was interpreted to allow multiple trip specific licenses; re-instating this interpretation with appropriate recordkeeping requirements would ensure that people to people travel to Cuba is expanded in a straightforward fashion.

Remittances Reforms

Anecdotal reports from the island have indicated that the Cuban people, island-wide, are enjoying the benefits of the President's lifting restrictions on Cuban American travel and remittances. As the economic realities in Cuba force the government to embrace an entrepreneurial approach and an expansion of the private sector, the President's reforms providing a general license for U.S. citizens to send remittances to non-family members in Cuba to support private economic activity is equally well-timed. There is some likelihood that increased resources as provided by this general license will provide both an increase in the quality of life of Cubans as well as provide an opportunity to take full advantage of the new economic opportunities. This could well make it difficult for the Cuban government to roll them back in the future — to the long term benefit of the Cuban people.

Once again, we want to express our strong support for the President's directive and for the regulations that have been issued. We believe that expanding purposeful travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and engagement with the Cuban people, without excess regulation, is a very important and positive step. We share your concern about the state of human rights in Cuba and applaud your consistent calls for the Cuban government to grant greater liberties to the Cuban people. In directing Cabinet agencies to issue new regulations seeking to increase liberties to U.S. citizens, the President is leading by example. It is our hope that Congress will eventually do the same.

We hope those involved in developing and consulting on the internal guidelines implementing the regulations will take these views into account. We would welcome the opportunity to speak with you directly on these matters.

Jeff Flake, Member of Congress
James P. McGovern, Member of Congress
Jason Chaffetz, Member of Congress
Janice D. Schakowsk, Member of Congress
Jo Ann Emerson, Member of Congress
Donna F. Edwards, Member of Congress
Ron Paul, Member of Congress
Sam Farr, Member of Congress
Judy Biggert, Member of Congress
Rosa DeLau, Member of Congress ro

Mr. Daniel Restrepo, Special Assistant to the President, National Security Council
Mr. Adam Szubin, Director, Office of Foreign Asset Control
Mr. Arturo Valenzuela, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs
Ms. Roberta Jacobsen, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs Ms. Julissa Reynoso, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs
Mr. Peter M. Brennan, Coordinator, Office of the Coordinator for Cuban Affairs

No comments:

Post a Comment