Travel restrictions confound Boston-area Cubans
- (More and more it appears that the Bush administration has shot itself
in the foot with the decisions which it made to even further restrict
the rights of the Cuban-Amerian community in the US to visit members
of their families who continue to reside on the island. Re-definition
of the Cuban family by the Bush administration, in a way which will
achieve their political goal of reducing visitation by Cubans to their
families, has caused such widespread dismay and opposition that it even
registered with the editors of the Miami Herald in Sunday's edition:
SEE PHOTO AT BOSTON GLOBE SITE:
Travel restrictions confound Boston-area Cubans
By Johnny Diaz, Globe Staff | June 1, 2004
Many of Greater Boston's Cubans and Cuban-Americans have
long straddled two political worlds, their protest against
President Fidel Castro often competing with the financial
support they send to relatives on the Caribbean island.
Starting this month, new restrictions by the Bush
administration on how often Cuban-Americans may visit
relatives and how much aid they can take may further stress
that political tug-of-war.
The measures limit visits to once every three years instead
of once a year. And distant relatives -- cousins, aunts,
and uncles -- will be banned from visits. Travelers will
still be allowed to visit their spouses, children,
siblings, parents and grandparents.
Some Cuban-Americans support the tougher regulations
against Castro and see their implementation as a positive
step to bringing democratic change to the country. Others
say the clampdown on travel and aid may mean more hardship
for their families, not for Castro.
"It can be very devastating to the work we are doing," said
Oswald Mondejar, a Boston resident who visits his homeland
once a year to deliver medicine and Braille books to Cubans
with disabilities. He is cofounder of a Boston-based
charity called ACCESO -- Americans and Cubans Building
Community Through Exchanges, Support and Outreach -- that
delivered $80,000 worth of medical supplies and 7,000 books
Local charities and religious groups such as ACCESO that
make yearly trips to the country say they are growing
concerned over whether they will be able to return to the
island when their travel licenses come up for renewal later
"We have touched lives through our work and developed
important partnerships that we need to continue," said
Mondejar, who has 10 relatives on the island. "We are just
starting to make a difference."
Bush's Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba unveiled
the provisions last month, saying the rules aim to curb the
flow of American dollars to Cuba's communist government and
to bring about a transition to democracy.
The rules also limit luggage to 44 pounds per person and
eliminate the possibility of purchasing extra baggage
capacity. The measures reduce the amount of money Americans
can spend in Cuba from $164 to $50 a day during a two-week
The plans do not affect the amount each family can send to
Cuba, which remains at about $1,200 annually. Overall,
Americans send between $500 million and $750 million a year
to relatives on the island.
The amended family restrictions underscore a growing divide
between older Cuban exiles and recent immigrants or those
who were born in the United States. The initiatives have
also sparked some protests. Last month in Miami, some Cuban
exiles with deep political ties to the Republican party
organized a rally against Bush's travel restrictions.
They "go against the growing family reconciliations that
have been going on for the past decade," said Uva de
Aragon, assistant director of the Cuban Research Institute
at Florida International University in Miami. "It's very
ironic coming from an administration that seems to
encourage family values. The concept of families for Cubans
includes extended families, godparents, aunts, uncles,
cousins. For Hispanics, your family is your family."
Common Ground Education and Travel Services in Cambridge,
which books educational and humanitarian trips to Cuba for
Boston-area travelers, and other travel agencies have been
circulating e-mails and letters over the Internet urging
Cubans and their friends to write their lawmakers to show
opposition to the policy.
Religious groups that regularly visit Cuba also question
whether they will be able to return there.
"It remains to be seen," said Gary Hirsch and his wife,
Linda, of Wayland, who traveled to the Cuban town of
Cienfuegos, in February to aid a 35-member Jewish
For the past three years, the couple and members of
Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley have been
working with their Cuban counterparts to help them sustain
their religion. Hirsch's long-term goal is to help Cuba's
congregation find a permanent home for religious
gatherings. The group has been meeting in a member's living
"They still need a lot of help," Gary Hirsch said.
Johnny Diaz can be reached at jodiaz@....
C Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.