Afro

Fate of Annual HBCU Cuba Programs Unclear

With President Donald Trump enacting a new Cuba policy that aims to, among other things, curb tourism to the communist island, educators running journalism programs at Howard University and Morgan State University need more time to digest how the changes could affect their annual school trips to Cuba.

For now, faculty at both schools are taking a wait-and-see approach. “I think it’s too soon to tell because all of us need to read the regulations as they’re written,” Frederic Kendrick, an assistant professor in Howard’s Department of Media Journalism and Film, told the AFRO. He co-organizes the department’s trips to Cuba, which help students secure international reporting experience in Spanish.

With the President Donald Trump’s new Cuba policy it is unclear if trips, like the one these Morgan State University students took to Cuba in 2016, will continue. (Courtesy photo)

Since 2012, DeWayne Wickham, founding dean of the School of Global Journalism and Communication at Morgan State University, has taken journalists, educators, students, and professionals on trips to Cuba to learn about Afro Cubans and their links to African Americans. Students on those trips also secure international reporting experience by working on a documentary about their counterparts at the University of Havana.

Wickham told the AFRO that once the federal government rolls out the new regulations he will ensure the trips he leads to Cuba adhere with the new policy. Until then, he said, those trips will continue until the administration tells him his groups cannot go as journalists and/or educators.

“I think the work we do there is important,” said Wickham, a former USA Today columnist.

On June 16, Trump signed an executive order before a supportive crowd of Cuban Americans in Miami that reversed certain parts of the Obama administration’s Cuba policy.

The decades-old embargo against Cuba blocked most trade with the island and outlawed tourism, but Obama’s policy loosened the embargo, facilitating some travel and trade for Americans. Trump argued that Obama’s policy didn’t help the Cuban people and instead enriches the Castro regime, that Trump said continues to repress citizens who speak out, jails political prisoners, and commits other human rights violations. Under the new policy, Trump will prohibit most direct financial transactions with the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services, which control more than 50 percent of Cuba’s economy including the tourism industry and most hotels on the island.

Travel groups like Wickham’s typically stay in one of those hotels. Kendrick said his students stayed at bed and breakfasts, which are run independently of the state.

“The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military,” Trump said in Miami. “The regime takes the money and owns the industry. The outcome of (the) last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement. Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.”

Trump’s policy will scrap unchaperoned, individual trips to Cuba that Obama instituted. Travelers visiting Cuba on educational trips will instead have to go in groups with a guide.

The U.S. Treasury Department will regularly audit travelers’ trips to Cuba to ensure they comply with one of the 12 categories listed for legal travel, per a presidential memorandum. As such, travelers will have to continue keeping meticulous records of all their transactions on the island for at least five years.

Within 30 days, the U.S. government will institute a process to adjust existing regulations so they comply with Trump’s Cuba policy, the memorandum said. It is not known when the regulations will be completed or implemented.

In his speech, Trump lambasted Cuba for its poor human rights record and demanded the Cuban government return American fugitives, including Joanne Chesimard, also known as Assata Shakur. As a member of the Black Panther Party, she was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper and escaped from prison in 1979 before fleeing to Cuba in 1984. The island nation granted her political asylum and she has been living there ever since.

The Cuban government, meanwhile, denounced the new policy in a letter the same day, saying it is merely a strategy to upend the island’s political, economic, and social systems and is “condemned to fail.”

The missive went on to say that the United States is in no place to lecture Cuba about human rights, listing a litany of issues, including the passage of a House bill to repeal and replace Obamacare that would eliminate health insurance for an estimated 23 million Americans, the treatment of refugees, especially those who are Muslim, and ongoing issues with police brutality.

“We have deep concerns [about] the respect and the guaranties of the human rights in that country, where there is a large number of cases of murder, brutality and police abuse, particularly against the African Americans,” the letter said. “The right to live is violated as a result of deaths by firearms.”