Friday, December 16, 2011

New Orleans Editorial Applauds Tulane Program

Tulane University's program in Cuba a positive step: An editorial

Published: Friday, December 16, 2011, 8:57 AM

By Editorial page staff, The Times-Picayune

New Orleans has long historical and cultural ties to Cuba. That is partly why Tulane University ran a summer abroad program in Cuba from 1999 until 2004, when the Bush administration restricted academic access to the island.

President Barack Obama reversed that policy earlier this year, and that's allowing Tulane to once more offer its summer program to students. That's a welcome development that should increase New Orleans' ties to the island.

It's important, however, that the Obama administration pursues the necessary policy shift toward Cuba and ends the decades-old embargo on that nation.

The Tulane program will allow students to earn credits in courses in English and Spanish during the four-week annual program set to resume next summer at the University of Havana. Organizers are hoping to send 20 students next year.

Tulane's Cibam and Caribbean Studies Institute is offering the program in collaboration with the University of Havana and the Centro de Estudios Hemisfericos de los Estados Unidos.

The program benefited from the latest in a series of policy changes President Obama has made to increase relationships with the island, particularly between families and non-governmental entities.

Earlier this year, the administration began allowing charter flights to and from Cuba from nine U.S. airports, including Louis Armstrong International in Kenner. The administration has also eased commerce and educational trips and decided to let American telecommunications companies do business in Cuba. Just as important, the Treasury Department in January allowed Western Union to begin paying remittances from the United States in pesos instead of dollars, saving recipients the 10 percent charge the Cuban government had imposed to exchange dollars to pesos.

Like Tulane University's program, these other developments are positive steps to reinstate ties between our nation and Cuba. But these are all small moves. Ending the ineffective embargo has long been the meaningful change that's needed.

The U.S. has to maintain a clear goal for its policy to Cuba: for the Cuban government to end the oppression of its people and to give them a meaningful say in their government by allowing freedom of expression, freeing political prisoners and holding free, multi-party elections.

But in almost 50 years, the embargo has done nothing or very little to advance those goals. Even measures by Congress to tighten the embargo in the early 1990s have failed to accomplish the proponents' goal of bringing down the Cuban regime. To the contrary, the embargo has contributed to the poverty of many Cubans and reduced our nation's ability to bring about change in the island.

The U.S. trade and political relationship with the oppressive regime in China has been a far more effective way to push for democratic change in that nation -- and the same strategy should be used in Cuba.

In the meantime, even relatively small programs like Tulane's are important ways to help erode the barriers that separate our two countries.

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