Monday, December 29, 2008

Travel the President Can Allow

Upon taking office, the Obama Administration can use its executive authority to the extent permitted by law to suspend many but not all of the limits on freedom of travel by Americans.

As a first step the new Secretary of the Treasury can instruct the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to establish general licenses for all non-tourist travel to Cuba as codified in 2000 (see below). The registration and costly reporting requirements of Travel Service Providers (TSP) can be abolished, enabling any US travel agent to book flights and accommodations for individuals and organizations entitled to general licenses.

Still prohibited, according to the law and regulations, would only be "tourist activities" which simply "means any activity with respect to travel to, from, or within Cuba that is not expressly authorized" by the codified categories. Beach resort packages, conventional cruise line itineraries, and other large scale commercial tourism, the principal potential sources of revenue to Cuba, will remain out of bounds.

OFAC's oversight and enforcement role regarding travel must be limited by the Secretary of the Treasury to providing information about the twelve authorized categories, the nature of a general license, and remaining restrictions on “tourist activities”, thus redeploying staff energies to real national security concerns. (Bush regulations should also be revoked that misuse customs agents to search for and confiscate personal goods and souvenirs brought from Cuba.)

Virtually any American with a serious interest will be immediately free to go to Cuba legally. Not-for-profit organizations, educational and cultural institutions, professional and trade associations, humanitarian and religious groups, businesses, Cuban Americans, and other motivated persons will be able to undertake, without politically motivated obstruction, any kind of visit that does not fall within the limited definition of “tourist activities”.

The categories codified in 2000 entitled to a specific or general (self-qualifying) license are:

(1) Family visits

(2) Official business

(3) Journalistic activity

(4) Professional research

(5) Educational activities

(6) Religious activities

(7) Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and

exhibitions

(8) Support for the Cuban people

(9) Humanitarian projects

(10) Activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes

(11) Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials

(12) Certain export transactions

Categories 4 to 9 offer particularly broad interpretation. “Educational activities” had already, under pre-2004 OFAC licensing, come to mean a wide range of people-to-people exchanges. The benefit of a general license is that no bureaucratic delay or partisan vetting is possible because prior approval and post-trip reporting are not required. Even if OFAC retained redundant Cuba staff with Bush era political agendas, second guessing of general license use is impractical except in the case of flagrant public disregard of the non-tourist prohibition, e.g. commercial promotion of a holiday at a beach resort or conventional cruise line itineraries.


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Add your name to an on-line letter to Barack Obama favoring non-tourist travel here.



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