NAFSA Commends President Obama’s Focus on Educational Exchanges with Cuba


Obama announces $1 million fund for U.S.-Cuban academic partnerships


Rebecca Morgan, 202.737.3699 x4449,

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2016 – NAFSA: Association of International Educators (NAFSA) has committed more than 10 years to advocacy to normalize U.S.-Cuban relations and to facilitate sustainable partnerships between U.S. and Cuban academic institutions. Prominent among recent efforts is NAFSA’s public-private partnership with the U.S. State Department and Partners of the Americas on the 100,000 Strong in the Americas presidential initiative.

The Cuba-specific funding rounds of this innovative higher education-based grant competition, courtesy of a $1 million donation from the Cuban-American community, were announced by President Barack Obama today in Cuba as part of the administration’s focus on expanding educational exchanges throughout the Western Hemisphere. An increase in bidirectional student exchange will help overcome decades of misperceptions and mistrust between the United States and Cuba, and foster a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Education has routinely proven to be a catalyst for improving our world through collaboration and understanding. This shift in executive stance, however, cannot fully reclaim academic exchange participation, which remains considerably short of levels achieved in the 1990s. While still law, the U.S. embargo on Cuba also continues to prohibit U.S. and Cuban businesses and organizations from conducting transactions as normally as they are able to do in other countries.

Legislative action is required to permanently dismantle the embargo on Cuba. NAFSA has issued calls for Congress to pass the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (S.299; H.R. 664), along with the Cuba Trade Act (H.R. 3238), in order to systematically ease travel and trade restrictions. Enacting these laws guarantees the American public the freedom to interact and conduct business with Cuba as freely as they are able to do with any other country.

“NAFSA welcomes the Obama administration’s visit to Cuba as a prelude to further normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba,” said Marlene M. Johnson, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO. “Having been fortunate to visit Cuba this past fall, a freedom currently denied to many American citizens, I witnessed first-hand an intense desire for U.S. and Cuban higher education institutions to collaborate. Most study abroad programs conducted by U.S. institutions in Cuba closed their doors after executive action in 2004 instituted severe restrictions on academic travel to Cuba, abandoning one of the only avenues of understanding and collaboration that existed between our two countries.”

“NAFSA has been one of the most consistent voices for opening cooperation between Cuba and the United States,” said Steve Vetter, President and CEO of Partners of the Americas. “President Obama's historic announcement of a 100,000 Strong in the Americas dedicated U.S.-Cuba Innovation Competition will increase bilateral student exchange and foster a new era of relations between our two countries. Partners of the Americas is proud to partner with NAFSA and the U.S. Department of State on this important educational initiative.”

Additionally, NAFSA’s Annual Conference & Expo in Denver from May 29-June 1, features a diversity in study abroad platform featuring programs in Cuba and Cuban institutions, in addition to sessions aimed at facilitating productive educational partnerships between the United States and Cuba.

NAFSA believes continuing the embargo fails both the American and Cuban people. The imposed sanctions not only target Cubans, but also affect Americans. For over a half century, the United States has isolated a nation of 11.27 million people from participating in academic exchange, has ignored pleas to permit travel and trade without limited exceptions, and has willfully impeded potential U.S.-Cuban relationships that would benefit both countries.

Johnson added, “As Americans, we enjoy free travel and trade around the world, with one exception. As Americans, we stand for openness and freedom for ourselves and others around the world, with one exception. And that exception is a law that applies to an island nation that lies a mere 90 miles from our shores. Our current law denies our students, our business leaders, and ourselves the right to fully benefit from productive relationships with Cuba. NAFSA calls on Congress to rectify this 50-year failed policy, to end the embargo, and to permit Americans to completely enjoy our freedoms around the world, no exceptions.”

Sample Tweet: .@NAFSA commends @POTUS & #100KStrongAmericas for expanding #USCuba #studyabroad. But Congress must #EndTheEmbargo

With more than 10,000 members, NAFSA: Association of International Educators is the world's largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education. Visit us at To learn more about our advocacy efforts on behalf of international education, visit and @ConnectOurWorld on Twitter.