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The People-to-People Travel Crisis

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People-to-people travel has been one of the few successful elements of U. S current policy towards Cuba.  However, this category of travel has been under constant attack since its implementation by the Obama Administration in January 2012.

According to the Treasury Department, approximately 160 organizations were granted people-to-people licenses in the past year. Now about 140, a sizeable number, of those people-to-people travel licenses are languishing in the bureaucratic depths of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, pending renewal.   Twenty applications of the total 160 have been newly granted or renewed within the past month, but some very respectable organizations have been denied their renewal. In 2010-2011 we worked tirelessly to reinstate this category of travel, and we will not stand by quietly and watch it shrivel and disappear.

The original application for a people-to-people license consisted of six pages in which you had to provide a sample itinerary and explanation about how trip activities would promote true interactions with the Cuban people.  But as of May 2012, OFAC tightened up the application process, making it even more tedious, and averaging about one hundred pages in length.

Why the change? In short, Florida Senator Marco Rubio continued to block the confirmation of Roberta Jacobson as the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs until the administration addressed his concerns with the people-to-people program.  His unfounded complaints? That illegitimate organizations are receiving licenses and primarily meet with government-employed Cubans and that this is purely a way for tourists to get to Cuba who are “curious about Cuba and, at worst, sympathize with the Cuban regime.”

After being confirmed, Roberta Jacobson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and defended Obama’s current Cuba policy.   “The administration’s travel, remittance and people-to-people policies are helping Cubans by providing alternative sources of information, taking advantage of emerging opportunities for self-employment and private property, and strengthening independent civil society.”  Her testimony proves that the White House still supports and promotes its policy of engaging with Cuba, and therefore, OFAC, which is part of the administration, should be carrying out its mandate of processing licenses.

In response to this hold up of license renewals, LAWG asked our activists to tell the Office of Foreign Assets Control and the Cuba Desk of the State Department to comply with regulations that President Obama authorized in 2011—and to retain the original intent of the people-to-people licenses without bureaucratic excuses and tangles. In response, we sent in over 1,400 emails to both OFAC and the Cuba Desk. OFAC, in response to the noise you all made, then issued 20 licenses that were comprised of renewals and new licenses. While there has been some positive movement to renew some licenses, there are many organizations that have been denied that more than fulfill the requirement to show how U.S. citizens would engage with Cuban citizens on their trips. LAWG will continue to monitor the progress of people-to-people travel, and we encourage OFAC to fulfill President Obama’s directive to grant people-to-people licenses in a timely and responsible way that doesn’t bring partisan politics into the process. 

October 26, 2012