WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) – Responding to vigorous protests by members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and parents of the 80 American medical students in Cuba, the U.S. State Department has dropped plans to block them from continuing their medical studies.

Many of the callers to my office were heartbroken at the thought that their children might be denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue their dreams of achieving the high calling in the medical profession.
–Congressman Charles Rangel

“I am pleased that the State Department, with the encouragement of Secretary of State Powell, decided against destroying the dreams and aspirations of these students who would otherwise have no chance of attending medical schools in this country,” Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY) said in a statement.

Most of the affected students are Blacks and Latinos who took advantage of an offer by the Cuban government in 2000 to fully fund their medical studies at the Latin American Medical School in Havana. An additional 25 students from around the country are expected to join them in September.


Before the intervention, the students were facing a June 30 deadline to leave Cuba under the Bush administration’s plan to tighten restrictions on travel to that country. On June 28, a State Department official informed Mr. Rangel’s office that a new set of regulations would be drafted, allowing the students to remain in Cuba for the duration of their medical studies.

“They were caught up in a policy matter that was never meant to affect them,” the official said.

Mr. Rangel had protested the decision in a June 23 letter, asking Secy. Powell to rescind the decision.

“Since June 16th, with the publication of new, more restrictive regulations governing travel to Cuba, I have received many calls from parents of these students who are concerned that they may be negatively affected, and possibly be forced to abandon their studies as early as June 30th, when the new standards become effective,” Congressman Rangel wrote.

“Many of the callers to my office were heartbroken at the thought that their children might be denied a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pursue their dreams of achieving the high calling in the medical profession. I would certainly hope that their dreams would not be denied by the political struggle in which our government finds itself with Cuba, and in which they have no part at all,” the congressman wrote to Mr. Powell.

Many see these new and revised sanctions as a direct attack on the scholarship opportunity which Cuba has extended to 500 U.S. students to study medicine in Cuba.

Reverend Lucius Walker, of Pastors for Peace, the group that administrates the U.S.-Cuba medical school exchange program, cautions people not to get happy too fast.

“We have to be careful not to accept just anything too fast,” he told The Final Call. “The new regulations eliminated the ‘fully hosted’ category which allowed the students to be there.”

In the past, students who lived and studied in Cuba on full scholarships, paid for by persons not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, were not violating the embargo and its regulations, even without seeking a specific license.

He added, “In general, the fact that the students were living and studying in Cuba fell within the category of “fully hosted travel.”

All that changes with the new regulations, whose implementation has been postponed.

According to Rev. Walker, under the new regulations, the fully hosted category is removed and OFAC  (the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Treasury Department, the office in charge of enforcement of the sanctions against Cuba) now considers it illegal for a U.S. citizen to accept a gift–including scholarship, room, board, etc., from Cuba.

“Changing the rules doesn’t hurt Cuba at all,” said Rev. Walker. “We cannot overlook the racist implications of Bush’s actions. Almost 80 (soon to be 100) African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and poor White students are faced with the loss of their medical careers.”

He added, “The new regulations proposed won’t reinstate the fully hosted category. Students can apply for a license to study in Cuba. We want the students to have an exemption from all of this. Just let the students study in Cuba.”

The new rules also affect visits by Cuban Americans to family members living on the island. Visits would be allowed only once every three years, instead of once a year, as currently allowed. Allowable financial remittances to family members would also be reduced from $3,000 to $300 per year.

The Bush administration, responding to angry protests from the Cuban American community in Miami and elsewhere, has announced that enforcement would be delayed until August 1 instead of July 1, as originally scheduled.

“Bush has said that this cruel policy is part of his program to ‘hasten Cuba’s transition to a democratic society.’ Well, these changes don’t sound very democratic to us,” argued Rev. Walker.

He is encouraging people to respond with calls and letters to protest these regulations.

“We must immediately mount a major campaign to insist that our students be exempt from U.S. Treasury licensing requirements for their travel to and study in Cuba, because they are engaging in full-time study and incurring no expenses in Cuba.”

“Let us not love in word: but in deed and in truth. I John 3:18,” he recited.

If you would like to join the campaign, you are encouraged to make four telephone calls and write two letters.

  1. Call your two senators and U.S. representative. Call (202) 224-3121 and ask for the names of your state representative and two senators. You will be connected to their office. Then, ask for the staff person working on Cuban affairs or foreign policy.
  2. Call Kevin Whitaker, head of the Cuba Desk at the State Department at: (202) 647-9272.
  3. Send a letter to: Department of Treasury, OFAC, 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20220
  4. Send a letter to: The Honorable Colin Powell, Secretary of State, Department of State, 2201 “C” Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520.