Wednesday, December 31, 2008

US Civil Society Wants Change in US Policy

Few foreign policy issues produce such broad national support for change, or challenge as directly inside-the-beltway PAC financed entrenched interests. The FIU, Zogby, AP/Ipsos and Gallup polls have shown that two-thirds of our nation, including the same percentage of Cuban Americans, support freedom of travel to Cuba. Among Obama supporters the number favoring change is a remarkable 84%.

At least a dozen letters and reports have been produced in the past few weeks urging decisive action by the new administration on travel to Cuba and could be the basis for a substantive meeting with the transition team:

* from 12 business associations
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Society of Travel Agents
Business Roundtable
Coalition for Employment through Exports
Emergency Committee for American Trade
Grocery Manufacturers Association
National Foreign Trade Council
National Retail Federation
Organization for International Investment
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
U.S. Council for International Business
USA*Engage
See text here

* from 13 academic, business, NGO and advocacy organizations
American Association of State Colleges and Universities
American Friends Service Committee
Church World Service
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Latin America Working Group
Latin American Studies Association
NAFSA: Association of International Educators
National Foreign Trade Council
Operation USA
Social Science Research Council
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
USA*Engage
Washington Office on Latin America
See text here

* The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA press release here) and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) [text here] have authored their own statements as well as joined the applicable group letter.

* A summit of 37 travel and tourism industry leaders urged Obama, "Adopt as policy that the citizens of the United States should be free to travel the globe without
artificial restrictions placed on them by their own government." (text here)

* Wayne Smith released a letter from the Emergency Coalition to Defend Educational Travel,(ECDET) at a press conference in company with officials from several universities.

* The Alliance for Responsible Cuba Policy and ENCASA (text here) produced thoughtful letters. The Latin America Working Group and the Washington Office on Latin America launched a sign-on letter and petition that include Cuba within the context of Latin America policy.

* The Cuba Study Group, founded by prominent mainstream Cuban Americans, has issued a report powerfully calling for allowing all travel after previously limiting its position to family visits. See text here

* FRD's on-line letter to the President-elect urging he provide general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist travel has topped 1100 grass roots signers (83% were active Obama supporters or donors), with many eloquent comments. See text here.

*A broad group of main line Protestant religious leaders have written to the President-elect urging he :
.. Freely allow religious travel to Cuba.
.. Liberally grant visas for U.S. travel to Cuban pastors and other religious leaders, and no longer bar officials of the Cuban Council of Churches.
.. Lift the travel ban for all Americans.
(The US Conference of Catholic Bishops is already on record against travel restrictions.)
See text and signature list here.

Freedom House, a prominent dissident linked human rights organization which denounces Cuba regularly has called for Obama to "immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island". (text here )

In addition there have been powerful studies from the Council on Foreign Relations (text here) and the Brookings Institution (summary and link here) as well as editorials in leading newspapers advocating a substantial change in US policy, with travel restrictions a primary focus.

Jake Colvin of USA Engage/National Foreign Trade Council made a compelling case that the President can do virtually anything he wants to modify the embargo, except permit tourism which can be read here.

UPDATE: Julia Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations sums up many of the arguments for change in a Memo to President Obama which appears in the February issue of Cigar Aficionado and can be read here.

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