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About Amistad, Academia and U.S. Cuban travel policies

academic exchanges, By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Licensing & visas, News and Views, Opinion, travel 4 Comments »

ENCASA‘s Ruben Rumbaut informs us of their involvement with the Amistad Project: The Amistad slave ship replica is on its way to Cuba. With permission from both the Cuban and the U.S. governments, it will dock in Matanzas on the 22nd to visit the Slavery Museum there, then sail to Havana for the celebration of the U.N.’s Day of Remembrance for the Victims of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The ship will stay in Havana for a week. Here is the  LINK to the press release.

This past week has been momentous in terms of support for increased cultural and academic exchanges with Cuba. An opinion piece that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education a few days ago argued for a modification in U.S. Cuban policy to allow for lifting restrictions (severely worsened by the Bush administration), so that U.S. academics can conduct research in Cuba without U.S. government interference. On the other side of the academic aisle, so to speak, others have argued that without a political opening in Cuba, these pro-travel academics are only playing into Cuba’s window dressing game, for real research is impossible while the Cuban government does not allow U.S. scholars’ unrestricted access to research sites. Their position is that to press for academic exchanges in the U.S. without simultaneously demanding change in Cuba is hypocritical. Our CUNY colleague and El Yuma blogger Ted Henken has taken issue with this counter argument (made mostly by, in turn, a colleague of his, economist Jorge Sanguinetty). According to Ted Henken, it is possible to do real research in Cuba even if one does not have proper research authorization from the Cuban government. Furthermore, some research is better than no research, and students will still benefit from the opportunity.

While I agree with Ted and with the spirit of the Chronicle’s letter on the need for a radical change in U.S. policy toward Cuba, I would also like a situation in which research would be facilitated also on the Cuban end. A tourist visa is not enough. Not all research projects are created equal. Some of them are impossible to carry out without explicit on-site permission and facilitation (I am aware that this is not unique to Cuba; there are plenty of research arenas in the United States that are off limits to foreign, and at times also native, scholars).  To wit: Without a proper research affiliation in Cuba, there are archives, survey populations and marine reefs, among many other possibilities, that are off limits.  While some might be able to carry out their investigation without any extravagant need for additional support and collaboration (say someone conducting research on Cuban street slang), others (say someone wishing to study the garbage disposal system and its ecological impact) might have a harder time with only a tourist visa and no institutional support. Furthermore, ethnographic research (which is after all the inspiration for this blog project) requires a lengthy stay. I am of the old fashioned opinion that proper ethnographic fieldwork cannot be bypassed and substituted by a few short trips; much less if such research is the basis of a dissertation-type project.  Since the opening of academic relations in the 1990s,  such research has typically been conducted under a student visa; which by its very definition is not fit for a post-graduate scholar. And only very exceptionally have post-graduate scholars been able to obtain a research visa: the process is long and cumbersome, to say the least. Their alternative has been, precisely, short trips as tourists; trips that in a couple of unfortunate cases had no happy ending precisely because the person overstepped the boundaries set by the tourist visa.

Henken seems to be advocating complete freedom of research, and I do agree in principle with that position, but in a world of international states and borders it is unfortunately a utopia.  In the end it comes down to whether the ends justify the means. For as long as a specific research or student visa is required by the Cuban government as a prerequisite to conduct bona fide academic research on the island, as responsible university professors we cannot advocate the breaking of that country’s laws.  I, for one, would very much like to see U.S. roadblocks disappear, and subsequently, I would also like to see the parallel Cuban bureaucratic process  eased.  Let’s hope that the Amistad journey will stand as a symbol not only of the past but also of the future.

Medical Insurance Required to Enter Cuba (as of May 1st)

By Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, Health, Licensing & visas 29 Comments »

UPDATE (4/7/2010): For an update on specific costs and procedures, go HERE

As of May 1st both tourists and temporary residents will have to purchase an insurance policy along with their visas. Up until know, if tourists sought medical attention, they were charged for services on the spot.  Temporary residents would presumably have been covered by the state system, at least if they were students. It was, however, a good idea to have a private insurance, so that you could be seen at the well-supplied hard-currency facilities, which otherwise charged US prices for the visit. (I personally contracted with a European insurance company called Europe Assistance, which had an agreement with its Cuban equivalent). Now, proof of valid insurance will be required from everybody entering the country. Obviously because of the US embargo, insurance policies with US companies are not valid for Cuba, but many international travelers’ insurance companies are (supposedly Cuba will publish a list of those).

Cuba has ASISTUR, which offers temporary policies to foreigners at competitive rates and also operates as a representative of non-Cuban companies, like the aforementioned Europe Assistance.  But will hospitals like Havana’s hard-currency Cira Garcia be ready for the increased number of patients (hey, if you get an insurance policy you might as well go check on those minor ailments you’ve been putting off…).  ASISTUR actually worked very well: since it is a Cuban company they cover everything upfront… But now with the avalanche of new insurees, will they be ready?

Although most of us, citizens of Europe and North America, might not have heard of such a regulation before anywhere (at least I had not), turns out that Europe has been imposing it since 2006. For visitors to the European Union from many countries, the requirements for a Schengen Visa (valid for all countries within the EU) include proof of a travel medical insurance. Such a health insurance must be recognized by the EU, have offices in a EU country, ensure cadaver repatriation costs, and medical expenses up to $42,888. Many US carriers like Blue Cross Blue Shield Wold wide services operate in Europe. Otherwise there are many companies that will offer insurance starting at $1/day. But because of the US embargo, this means an extra hurdle for US citizens visiting Cuba.

Here is the actual regulation as it appears in Cuba’s Gaceta Oficial:

You can read a translation into English HERE.

Concerning costs, rumors range from a few dollars a day to fifty dollars a month, but nothing has been officially set. Nothing is known as of yet concerning the international travel insurance companies that will be accepted. Currently, Havanatur (in the US, Marazul travel) sells travel insurance for $5/day (plus a service fee). For a more specific estimate of how much such an insurance currently costs if you have special needs, you can enter your data on the ASISTUR page designed to that effect.

* According to a Montreal-based blog written by a Cuban expatriate, in a post dated today (Sunday, march 7th), Cuban consulates abroad will add a “certification of insurance” to the visa. For Canadian residents and citizens, whose insurance covers them while abroad, including Cuba, the cost of such certification will be between 30 and 50 Canadian dollars. So they will not have to buy extra insurance if they already have a valid one, but they will still have to pay for the certification… U.S. nationals, obviously, will have to buy the extra insurance no matter what…

U.S.-Cuban Academic Exchange, A video-debate (2007)

Licensing & visas, Video - lecture and discussion No Comments »

Here are two videos from a day-long symposium on “U.S.-Cuban Academic Exchange,” hosted by the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago.  In Part One, Wayne Smith and Louis Pérez speak about the political and historical context of such exchanges.  Part Two, a roundtable with scholars who have traveled to Cuba as graduate students or faculty, includes archeologist Shannon Dawdy and cultural anthropologists Stephan Palmié, Laurie Frederik Meer and Paul Ryer.

Implications of recent OFAC changes

Licensing & visas No Comments »

Reading the recent changes to family travel licenses, as intended to affect Cuban-American travel to Cuba, there seems to be a crucial new sentence which could affect some of us.  That is, that where the June 2004 changes–enacted just after the birth of my first child–prohibited dependants and family members from accompanying licensed travelers, these new regs include the following sentence:

“Specific licenses may be issued on a case-by-case basis for additional visits during the 12-month period, as well as for travel to Cuba to visit a close relative who is not a national of Cuba.”  (emphasis added).

Does this mean that we can now apply for specific licenses to have our spouses, children, siblings and/or parents visit us in Cuba, if we are ourselves there as researchers?  Personally, this would be a tremendous improvement over the situation of the past five years, since it’s been nigh-impossible to leave my partner with our small children for extended research trips.  Does anyone have any knowledge of these recent OFAC changes in practice, or read them differently?

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