Engaging the Cuban People: Beyond the Billboard

July 29, 2009

By NAFSA

"Engagement" and "dialogue" have not always been words associated with U.S.-Cuba relations. But, if recent reports in the media are any indication, that may be changing. Today, NAFSA sent a letter to the Los Angeles Times in response to a July 28 article, US takes down provocative billboard in Havana , which characterized the removal of a billboard at the U.S. Interests Section building in Havana as a symbol of growing cooperation between the United States and Cuba.

Here's NAFSA's letter:

To the Editor:

President Obama's decision to shut down the news ticker at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana (US takes down provocative billboard in Havana, July 28) reflects his understanding of the need to emphasize respectful engagement and dialogue in our communications with the people of other countries. A State Department spokesperson noted that the administration did not feel that the billboard was helpful to the administration's goal of "increasing the free flow of information" to the Cuban people.

We hope the president will now take another step toward engaging the Cuban people that would be truly transformative: the lifting of current restrictions on academic travel. This action is vital at this stage in the "reset" of U.S. relations with Cuba. Academic exchanges are among the best and most proven tools we can use to build ties of understanding, create the conditions for democratic change, and advance efforts to improve relations between our two countries. Face-to-face exchanges across nations and cultures, as the president himself has said, "can break down walls between us."  It's time to lift the ban on academic travel and restore the flow of knowledge, ideas, and people between the United States and Cuba.

Victor C. Johnson

Senior Advisor, Public Policy

Just last week, NAFSA and 17 diverse organizations came together to send a letter to President Obama, asking him to build on the important steps he took earlier this year to renew U.S. relations with Cuba by lifting restrictions on academic travel.

Want to send a letter of your own? Visit NAFSA's Media Guide in the Take Action Center to find out how.


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