Engagement Doesn’t Stop with Opening of U.S. and Cuban Embassies

July 22, 2015

By Katie O'Connell

Cuban Embassy

At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 20, the Cuban flag was raised outside of the newly official Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., for the first time in more than 50 years. The crowd erupted into applause and cheers of “iViva Cuba!”

Nearly ten hours later, I walked up to the embassy on my way home from the NAFSA office and was happy to see that the celebrations had not died down. A large crowd was still chanting, singing, drumming and dancing on the sidewalk. Colorful signs calling for the end of both the travel ban and trade embargo were still weaved through the posts of the fence in front of the embassy building. I was proud to personally witness such a historic moment.

The opening of the Cuban and American embassies on Monday is an important step forward toward fully normalizing relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. As NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson said at the recent NAFSA conference in Boston, “Engagement, not isolation, is the best way to work toward human rights, prosperity, and security for all.”

In a similar ceremony to what happened Monday in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to raise the American flag over the new U.S. Embassy in Havana on August 14. Like most Americans, I won’t be able to see it in person. The travel ban still exists, making Cuba the only country in the world that the U.S. government prevents Americans from visiting.

Lifting the travel ban must be part of the reengagement between the United States and Cuba. While the opening of educational exchanges to Cuba in 2011 was a monumental advocacy victory, licensing requirements for academic travel and other categories of travel still exist, making it difficult for Americans to visit the country and experience it firsthand.

At NAFSA we believe that travel is inherently educational, and that travel is a right. That is why we are continuing to work with a diverse coalition of business, religious, agriculture, trade, and travel organizations, who are advocating for lifting the travel ban and embargo of Cuba.

There is a bill pending in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives right now that would lift the travel ban to Cuba. It is called the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S. 299; H.R. 664). In order for this bill to move, it needs more cosponsors and support.

More than 100 international educators came to Washington, D.C. for NAFSA’s Advocacy Day last March and lobbied their members of Congress to support the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act. Since then, 23 Representatives and 25 Senators signed on to the bill. But we still need more. You can be a part of this movement by sending this email to your Senators and this email to your Representative, urging them to cosponsor the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

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