from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Harvard Grads Do Some "Not Vacations" in Cuba

August 30, 2012

Blog Post

Cuba, tropical paradise. Harvard grads are invited to participate in a Harvard Alumni Association trip down there next year. But of course, this is a serious visit: no beaches, I guess. The Alumni Association describes the trip this way:

These programs are not vacations. Every hour must be accounted for and involve meaningful interactions with Cuban people. Further restrictions pertaining to the Cuban Assets Control Regulations apply.

Participants attend a full daily schedule of activities that include lectures, roundtable discussions and break-out sessions, private performances, artistic demonstrations and interpretations, and informal conversations, all delivered by local people. Speakers and guests include professors and students from the University of Havana, docents from museums, artisans and craftsmen of various trades, musicians and dancers, and local residents. They will help you gain a better understanding of the history, economics, education, healthcare, politics, art, architecture, and culture of Cuba.

One wonders. Will there be much interaction with Alan Gross, the USAID contractor who has been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for the crime of trying to help the tiny local Jewish community get on the internet? Might a visit to him in prison help the grads "gain a better understanding" of the "politics" of Cuba? Will they meet with the Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unión Patriótica de Cuba, UNPACU), which Amnesty International describes as an "umbrella group of Cuban dissident organizations in and around the province of Santiago de Cuba who seek democratic change by non-violent means?" How about meeting the widow and children of Oswaldo Paya, whom the Committee to Protect Journalists described as a "tireless advocate for freedom of expression" and "the leader of the Varela Project, a landmark gathering of more than 20,000 signatures petitioning for political and human rights reforms to the government." Would that be a "meaningful interaction with Cuban people?" How much will the visiting Harvard grads learn about the Varela Project during their "roundtable discussions" and "break-out sessions?"

Cubans fighting for human rights can use our solidarity and support. Alan Gross, who has lost 100 pounds in prison, can use it as well. But this kind of well orchestrated tour will instead serve the purposes of the Cuban regime. Travelers who have a conscience should stay home. There will be time to visit Cuba some future day when it is free--and when "local residents" can speak freely to visitors about the lives they are leading.