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Global Exchange mounts challenge to US Travel Restrictions

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Cuba Watch

Global Exchange, San Francisco

Global Exchange hasd conducted many tours to Cuba. They have a succesful "Learn Spanish in Cuba" program, at the University of Havana, which combines language learning with getting to know the country. Many who go stay at the Cuban Federacion of Women's guest house, an organization which is actively promoting AfroCuban women for leadership roles.

Global Exchange encourages people of color to apply for the program.

Global Exchange challenge to Treasury's travel restrictions

February 1, 1999

Dear Colleague,

Global Exchange, the nonprofit internationalist organization based in San Francisco, California, has organized educational tours to the developing world for the past ten years. Our very popular Cuba tours have focused on every aspect of Cuban society (art and culture, religion, education, women's issues, economic and environmental issues and public health, to name but a few.) We are probably the second largest provider of travel services to Cuba in the U.S. and our trips have spawned many activists and organizations now working to end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

In September of this year, Global Exchange received a "cease and desist" order from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) at theTreasury Department, ordering us to stop organizing travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and to provide the names of all participants on such trips since March 1996. Global Exchange will not comply with this order.

The mission of Global Exchange is to build people to people tiesbetween the U.S. and the developing world. It is our view that ordinary U.S. citizens have not only a right, but a responsibility to inform themselves as fully as possible of the realities of other nations and cultures, especially those with which the U.S. government may have a conflictive relationship, as is the case with Cuba. A commitment to thedevelopment of a better informed and more active citizenry is a majorgoal ofGlobal Exchange.

This latest Treasury Department action against us -- based on an overly broad interpretation of the archaic 1919 Trading with the Enemy Act and an overly narrow interpretation of the travel restrictions themselves-- is but one in a long history of outrageous infringements on the right of U.S. citizens to travel. These violations of an internationally recognized human right, committed by a government that repeatedly holds itself up as a model of democracy and human rights, must be resisted.

We at Global Exchange view the cease and desist order as a significant threat but also an incredible opportunity. We have begun the complicated task of putting all of the pieces together for a major struggle with OFAC. We have garnered the legal support of the Center for Constitutional Rights. We have formally requested a meeting with the Treasury Department to discuss our now four year old application to be licensed as a Cuba travel service provider.

Global Exchange is one of the best suited organizations in the country to qualify for a Cuba travel providers license. Each of our trips has a "clearly defined educational purpose," which is a category of licensable travel according to OFAC's own regulations. We have submitted numerous license requests to OFAC in the past several years, to no avail. Typically, we do not even receive a response, as in the case of the Travel Service Providers license we applied for in 1994. Given our history of challenging the travel restrictions, from spearheading the Freedom to Travel Campaign to our ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against OFAC in 1994-95, we have clearly been the victim of OFAC's discriminatory practices.

Global Exchange has taken over 5,000 people to Cuba in the last 10 years, with the number of delegations increasing each year. In 1999, despite the obstacles OFAC has thrown in our way, we will organize over 20 tours to Cuba. The trips contribute to the development of a significant constituency of highly committed people working to end the embargo. Our past trip participants include Ann Bardach, whose New York Times exposť on links between the Cuban American National Foundation and exile terrorist Luis Posada made headlines across the U.S. this summer; Delvis Fernandez Levy, founder of the Cuban American Alliance and an increasingly important moderate exile voice on the Cuba question; and A.W. Claussen, former President of the World Bank and current member of Americans for Humanitarian Trade. On a lighter note, we are the fiscal sponsor for the highly successful Send a Piana to Havana Campaign of Benjamin Treuhaft, who first visited Cuba on one of our tours.

As one of the most well-known and widely respected providers of educational travel to Cuba, we must defend ourselves from this frontal assault on our work. We will use this opportunity to draw national attention to the travel restrictions and hopefully build the support necessary to effect their demise. As we build our case with Treasury on the right of ordinary citizens to travel, we need to have the support of the organizations, progressive and mainstream, that supported our Freedom to Travel Campaign and lawsuit during 1993-1996. We hope that you and your organization will be in a position to assist us again on this all important issue.

It is imperative that we act immediately as the Administration is currently reviewing the travel regulations and intends to make its changes -- if any -- before the middle of February.

See the Urgent Action Alert! below.

In peace,

Medea Benjamin Pam Montanaro
Co Director Cuba Program Coordinator


Please support Global Exchange at this time by either:

(1) signing on to the sample letter below;

(Please fax the signatures to 415-255-7498 attention: Pam Montanaro,
or simply email the names of the signatories to

(2) or faxing your own version of the letter below directly to Secretary Rubin at the Treasury Department (fax 202-622-0073) with cc's to: Michael Ranneberger Cuba Desk in the Department of State fax 202-736-4476

and Steven Pinter OFAC, fax 202-622-1657

(Please fax us a copy of your letter as well.)

We would appreciate the letter being signed by both the Latin America or human rights staff person of your organization and your executive director.

(3.) Please alert your congressperson and senators of this struggle and of your desire to see the travel restrictions lifted. As an intermediary step, the Treasury Department should broaden the definition of "clearly defined educational travel" so that nonprofit internationalist organizations like Global Exchange can legally organize educational trips to Cuba for the general public. We welcome your suggestions and advice for avenues to pursue and potential new allies in this struggle for the right to travel.


Sample Letter

Secretary Robert Rubin

Department of the Treasury

1500 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C. 20220

Dear Secretary Rubin,

It has come to our attention that the Office of Foreign Assets Control has imposed a "cease and desist" order on the internationalist, nonprofit organization Global Exchange regarding their educational trips to Cuba. Global Exchange is one of the most qualified organizations in the U.S. seeking to provide opportunities for ordinary U.S. citizens to learn about Cuba for themselves in the context of a socially responsible and educational tour.

Please intervene in this matter on behalf of Global Exchange and the internationally recognized human right of citizens to travel. It is imperative in this increasingly interconnected world, that human beings have the right to communicate across borders. How can citizens credibly enter the debate on such a controversial U.S. foreign policy if they are not allowed to experience first hand the reality of the foreign nation in question?

Global Exchange is widely respected for its mission to build people to people ties between the U.S. and the developing world. For the past ten years, they have taken thousands of citizens to other nations to meet with a variety of foreign citizens and organizations in order to better understand their flobal neighbors. Certainly this is an activity that should be encouraged and supported by the U.S. government.

We would like the Administration to work with Congress to lift all restrictions on travel by U.S. citizens as soon as possible. The Freedom to Travel bills introduced in the last two sessions of Congress by Senator Simon (104th) and Representative Serrano (105th) provide good models for what U.S. policy should be on this issue.

In the interim, it is imperative that the Treasury Department broaden its interpretation of the current restrictions, particularly in the area of "clearly defined educational travel" to include ordinary citizens who seek a better understanding of their world through educational tours. OFAC should immediately remove its cease and desist order against Global Exchange and grant that admirable organization a travel providers license so that they can continue to educate U.S. citizens about Cuban society and to build the kind of people to people ties that will promote long term peace and understanding between the U.S. and Cuba.


Your name(s) and organization here

cc: Michael Ranneburger
Office of Cuba Affairs
Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

Steven Pinter

Office of Foreign Assets Control
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20520

Fulton Armstrong
Inter-American Affairs
National Security Council
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500


Global Exchange

2017 Mission St., Rm. 303
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415.255.7296 Fax: 415.255.7498

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