Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 28, 1994

Smith Hopes Cuba Visit Will Shake Up U.S. Policy
By Mike Field

     First it was forbidden. Then it was all right. Now it's
forbidden again. Sort of. Through the ups and downs of the United
States' relations with Cuba, travel restrictions for American
citizens have been put into effect, eased and tightened again as
political realities have changed.
     A group of four academicians, led by Hopkins visiting
professor of Latin American studies Wayne S. Smith, plans to
visit the Caribbean nation in direct violation of the travel
controls established by President Clinton earlier this year. 
     The purpose of their visit, they say, is to commit a
deliberate act of civil disobedience in defiance of restrictions
they believe represent a dangerous infringement on academic
     "This is a matter of our constitutional rights," Dr. Smith
said during a recent interview shoehorned between appointments
and meetings aimed at building a coalition of individuals willing
to defy the ban. "On Aug. 20 the [U.S.] government rescinded the
general license under which professional researchers had been
able to travel to Cuba. It thus restricted academic freedom. We
are traveling to Havana to challenge the government's action."
     While the Aug. 20 policy directive ordered by the president
did not place an outright ban on travel to Cuba, it required that
scholars first apply to the Treasury Department for a permit to
visit there. Some researchers have had applications approved, but
Dr. Smith considers the whole permit process a violation of his
basic right to do research and to study wherever he chooses
without governmental approval.
     He is backed by the Latin American Studies Association, a 
national organization of more than 3,000 Latin America scholars
that will sponsor the travel challenge. Dr. Smith serves as
chairman of the LASA Cuba Task Force. His background in Cuba
includes several years spent as chief of mission at the U.S.
Interests Section in Havana during the Carter and Reagan years.
In a recent letter to other task force members, Dr. Smith
outlined the plans for the proposed action.
     Four task force representatives, including Dr. Smith, will
fly to the Bahamas and then to Cuba on Nov. 30, where they will
meet with the vice rector of the University of Havana. When they
return to Miami Dec. 2, they plan to hold a press conference
announcing their trip in violation of the travel controls and
will state their refusal to pay administrative fines or accept
lesser penalties.
     "At that time we intend to tell the government that if they
want to enforce the ban they will have to take us to court," he
said. "Another delegation of LASA members is ready to go down in
January, and we will send a delegation down every month in open
defiance of these laws as long as they remain on the books." 
     The possible threat of jail terms for violators leaves Dr.
Smith, a Marine combat veteran of the Korean War, unmoved. "If
the government wants to fill its jails with college professors,
it has only to try to enforce these illegal restrictions," he
     Non-academic groups promoting freedom of travel have already
violated the ban. In response, customs officials seized the
returning citizens' passports and once froze a group's assets to
prevent their travel. To date though, the government has declined
to prosecute violators. 
     "There is an administrative fine of $50,000 and a prison
term associated with violating the ban," Dr. Smith said. "But so
far the government has not prosecuted because they know if they
take it to court, they'll lose."
     The Supreme Court narrowly upheld similar travel bans
imposed by the Reagan administration in 1982 ruling that the Cold
War necessitated such action for national security purposes. With
the Cold War officially at an end, Dr. Smith believes the
government has no legitimate cause to prevent academicians from
traveling to Cuba to conduct research or engage in other
educational exchanges. 
     As director of Hopkins' Cuba Exchange Program, Dr. Smith
leads the oldest, largest and most active exchange program
between Cuban and American scholars. Each year, approximately
four professors, researchers and graduate students from Hopkins
spend up to a month each in Cuba doing research and, in some
cases, lecturing at various Cuban institutions. From five to six
Cuban counterparts per year spend time at Hopkins for periods
ranging from two weeks to two months. Smith fervently believes
such free exchange of scholarship should continue unhampered; he
is willing to go to jail to make his point.
     "When I headed the Cuba mission in the midst of the Cold War
we had a number of legitimate policy objectives that the travel
and trade ban was meant to enforce," he said. "At that time,
Castro had troops in Africa, he was meddling in Central American
revolutions and causing other trouble. We said then that once
those issues had been addressed we would cooperate in improving
relations. Well, he's no longer in Africa, he's not meddling in
South Amer-ica and now, instead of cooperating, [the United
States is] attempting to step up the pressure."
     He does not believe the policy will work. 
     "What we're doing is giving Castro a scapegoat and causing
his countrymen to rally round the flag. Even the Cuban Council of
Catholic Bishops and other ecumenical organizations in Cuba all
say the U.S. policy is wrong. We are totally isolated in this
travel and trade ban and it simply isn't working. It is
     Despite his feelings, Dr. Smith insists LASA's planned
unpermitted monthly trips to Cuba are not about U.S. foreign
policy toward that country but a protest in favor of academic
     "What we are objecting to are the travel controls," he said.
"It is supremely ironic that of all the nations in the world it
is only the U.S.--which is supposed to believe in the efficacy of
travel in supporting freedom--that supports this travel ban. We
want to see Cuba open up to a more open society. It is in Cuba's
interests to do so. But keeping American scholars out of the
country won't help make that come about."

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