MH: Court upholds law banning state funding of Cuba travel
- MIAMI HERALD
Posted on Fri, Sep. 03, 2010
Court upholds law banning state funding of Cuba travel
BY JUAN CARLOS CHAVEZ
A federal appellate court in Atlanta upheld a controversial Florida law that prohibits funding for academic and research travel to nations that are considered ``sponsors of terrorism,'' among them Cuba.
In announcing their decision, three judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals said that the state ordinance does not conflict with federal control over foreign policy.
The rules that initially limited the trips were imposed in 2006 at the urging of Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, who is now a congressional candidate.
On Thursday, Rivera expressed satisfaction with the decision and called it a ``victory'' for Florida taxpayers who do not want their money to go to the coffers of the government of RaÃºl Castro.
``I am pleased. The court has reaffirmed the authority of the state Legislature,'' Rivera told El Nuevo Herald. ``Our obligation is to ensure that public resources and taxpayers' dollars are not utilized to subsidize travel to terrorist countries such as the Castro regime.''
The legislation caused controversy and raised endless criticism, partly because it did not differentiate in discussing the origin of the funds; both public and private contributions were measured with the same yardstick.
In 2008, in a lawsuit filed by professors at several state universities, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz in Miami ruled that the law was unconstitutional.
At the same time, she reinstated a specific clause that barred university professors from traveling to Cuba for research purposes.
The state of Florida appealed her ruling. The decision from the 11th Circuit came this week.
In the academic world, the news was interpreted as a serious setback for future initiatives and projects of higher learning.
``It's a disaster. On a personal level, I am extremely depressed,'' said Carmen Diana Deere, a professor and former director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida.
Deere said that the law raised unnecessary obstacles to academic initiatives from the day it passed four years ago and that it affected a broad range of long-range plans, among them a Cuban studies program on historical archives and documents of the 19th and 20th centuries held by by the University of Florida, as well as academic exchanges that had been agreed to with the University of Havana.
``This puts us at a disadvantage at all levels of research and denies us the capacity to attract the best faculty and graduate students,'' said Deere.
The court's decision comes in the midst of initiatives by the Obama administration to encourage a more flexible process in its policy towards Cuba and achieve the democratization of the island.
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