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Traveling to Cuba? Read this first

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Are the Florida Straits getting smaller, or are more bridges being built?

In mid-January of 2011, President Obama eased travel restrictions for ordinary U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba through organizations holding “people-to-people” licenses, granted by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). He also granted general licenses (no pre-authorization required) for religious organizations and educational institutions. While this is substantial progress, our work is far from over.

Many U.S. citizens are continuing to work and travel to create a change between our two nations. Since January 2011, we’ve seen an explosion in U.S. travel to the island. This means that an increasing number of average, everyday citizens are traveling to Cuba to interact with average, everyday Cubans. This kind of bridge-building cultural exchange is just what we need to improve relations between the United States and Cuba. As more friendships are formed between citizens of our two countries, we hope that more U.S. citizens will feel compelled to unite to encourage greater changes in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Are you one of the compelled? Have you recently gone to Cuba? Do you have plans to travel in 2012? In this short survey, tell us about your most recent trip or the future trip you’re organizing! Or, tell us about your plans to travel with an organized delegation.

We need YOUR help in order to assist in building bridges between our two countries. Our goal for collecting this information is to connect the network of those who want to engage in changing our policy towards Cuba on both sides of the Florida Straits. With this information we can lend a hand in establishing connections, to link local groups that share mutual interests in Cuba, to provide contact with travel service providers that organize trips, and to generate collective advocacy around ending the ban on travel, and then to make local media aware of these connections. But we need to know WHO in the U.S. is traveling to Cuba and WHY in order to maximize our impact on policy change.

This survey will let us know about your interests in Cuba and give you more information on the possibilities of advocacy work in your community around these interests.

The voices that want to maintain the status quo are loud. We need to be louder. We have the majority of public opinion on our side. The most recent poll done by Angus-Reid shows that 62 percent of the U.S. public wants to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, yet the historic hard-line voices in Congress continue to override ours. Through these bridges that we hope to establish with YOU, our supporters, and Cubans, we want to elevate the importance of re-establishing ties with Cuba and the Cuban people.

How can we help? We can point you to resources. We can assist in getting some press attention on your efforts to become friends with Cubans, to the benefit of both our countries. We can help you upon your return to the United States in sharing your stories, organizing in your communities, reaching out to your local press with a “local interest” story about your trip, and, very importantly, communicating your opinions to your members of Congress. They are, after all, the ones we need to convince to change the law and end the travel ban and trade embargo. Take our brief survey now.

One of the best ways to foster understanding between our nations is for as many of us as possible to take advantage of the current possibilities for travel and to see this beautiful island for ourselves. Given that an election year is upon us, who knows how long these relaxed travel guidelines will last.

So, here at LAWG, we have compiled a list of organizations that have confirmed people-to-people licenses issued by OFAC to travel to Cuba, and that organize group travel to Cuba under their licenses. (This list is not comprehensive if you know of others let us know!) If you’re interested in traveling to see the “real” Cuba, check out our list and our “How-to” guide on legal travel to Cuba. We encourage anyone who is interested to take advantage of these people-to-people trips now!

And we encourage you, upon your return, to be citizen diplomats in the best sense of the word. Make connections! Share stories! Write letters-to-the-editor! Call your members of Congress! Give presentations! Stay in touch with your Cuban friends! And speak out in the press! The power of YOUR advocacy may be more than you think. Whether it’s simply having a casual conversation about your experience, or speaking to your member of Congress, every bit helps to counter the misconstrued image of Cuba in the United States. Join the network now by completing our survey.

Please share this with others who already know Cuba, or have travel plans.

Change is possible. It’s a matter of taking action; and we are ready and willing, eager even, to help!