A Victory for Public Diplomacy: Obama Administration Expands Academic Travel to Cuba

January 18, 2011

By Victor C Johnson

Last Friday, the international education community cheered when the White House took decisive action to expand academic travel to Cuba. President Obama has directed changes to regulations and policies – expected in the next couple of weeks – to “increase people-to-people contact; support civil society in Cuba; enhance the free flow of information to, from, and among the Cuban people; and help promote their independence from Cuban authorities.”

Since the Bush Administration placed harsh regulations on academic travel to Cuba in 2004, these changes have been a longtime advocacy goal of NAFSA, a broad and diverse coalition of organizations we have worked with, and the Connecting Our World community. To all of the advocates: thank you for your persistence in writing letters to President Obama on Cuba. This is a major victory for you, U.S. colleges and universities, and all American students who would like the opportunity to study in Cuba. It’s also a victory for U.S. engagement in the world, to which the President has once again demonstrated his commitment, through this action.

Why are these changes so important? Educational and cultural exchanges have historically been one of the United States’ most important and successful public diplomacy tools, especially in opening up closed societies. These programs build respect and understanding among peoples, sustain diplomatic and political relationships, and ultimately create the conditions for a more peaceful world.

What will be the impact on our colleges and universities? Once the changes go into effect, schools will be able to run credit-bearing study abroad programs in Cuba under a general license, students will have the freedom to study there with institutions other than their home campus, licenses for people-to-people exchanges will be restored, and there will be new and expanded travel opportunities for faculty and researchers, among other changes.

As always, it’s important to thank policymakers when they do something right.  Please visit the “Cuba is No Exception” campaign page on Connecting Our World to send a letter thanking President Obama for his leadership on this issue. I also invite you to leave comments and questions below on what these changes to Cuba travel policy mean to you.


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