Right to Travel, Hurricane Irma, and Ending the U.S. Blockade in Cuba

By NLG Cuba Subcommittee

For more than 20 years, the NLG Cuba Subcommittee (of the NLG International Committee) has provided free counseling and advice to U.S. travelers to Cuba. We established a network of 50+ practitioners called the “Wall of Lawyers,” throughout the country to provide these services. During the administration of George W. Bush, there was active enforcement and administrative prosecution, ultimately resulting in approximately two dozen “trials for travel” in Washington, D.C. To our knowledge, none of those persons charged and prosecuted has ever paid any penalties that were asserted against them.

After November 2006, such prosecutions virtually ceased, with a single but outrageous exception brought late in the Obama administration, seeking a $100,000 penalty against a leading activist in Florida. The NLG Cuba Subcommittee and its allies were involved in assisting or representing the travelers in each of these cases.

On June 16, 2017, President Trump announced in Miami that he was tightening restrictions on the right of U.S. residents and citizens to travel to Cuba. He mandated “audits” of the records of travelers to Cuba, and required reports to the White House about such enforcement actions. Although regulations were promised in the forthcoming months to implement these announcements, they have not been issued to date.

At the August 2017 NLG convention, Cuba Subcommittee Chair Art Heitzer presented an update on this travel situation. Recent travel challengers from Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade, and the African Awareness Association had all just returned from Cuba. As requested, the NLG Cuba Subcommittee organized lawyers to assist if any of them were detained at the airport, but no such incidents occurred.

The Cuba Subcommittee is now rebuilding the “Wall of Lawyers,” and invites anyone interested to please contact us. We are planning to review and update the detailed 2006 legal representation materials prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights re: Cuba travel.

Hurricane Irma attacked Cuba in September 2017 as a category five hurricane for 72 hours. “Cuba absorbed much of the impact from Hurricane Irma which lessened the damage to southern Florida and the United States,” according to 65 members of congress who wrote to President Trump asking him merely to allow U.S. companies to sell reconstruction supplies to Cuba. The NLG Cuba Subcommittee suggested and promoted this letter, joined by many other organizations, especially in the wake of the most severe hurricane attack on Cuba in 85 years and 10 fatalities which is very unusual for Cuba, given its legendary level of preparations. Cuba is the only country affected by these hurricanes which suffers from a US economic blockade, which the U.S. government describes as “the most comprehensive set of American sanctions ever imposed upon a country” and is still in force for more than 50 years. Cuba is also unique, in having sent over 700 doctors and medical personal to eight other island nations in the Caribbean devastated by Irma, and then again to Mexico after it was hit by massive earthquakes.

Then on September 29, 2017, the U.S. administration warned U.S. travelers to avoid Cuba, expelled two-thirds of the Cuban Embassy staff, withdrew most of the U.S. Embassy staff (over their opposition and that of their union), and stopped issuing visas to Cubans – all based on health symptom reports lacking any scientifically plausible explanation. The NLG Cuba Subcommittee listserv continues to report and share information on these and similar developments.

If you are interested in more information, please contact NLG Cuba Subcommittee c/o Art Heitzer, artheitzer@gmail.com. ■

Photo: A demonstration demanding to end the blockade in summer 2017 in front of the Federal Courthouse in Milwaukee, WI.