While the Trump administration’s policies regarding relations with Cuba may prevent American citizens from visiting the island nation on their own, Loyola students who wish to seek experiences abroad won’t be affected.
President Donald Trump announced new restrictions on commercial and travel activity in Cuba June 16, rolling back the former Obama administration’s policies, which reopened Cuba to diplomatic relations with the United States in 2015 and lifted trade and travel embargoes for the first time since 1961.
Trump’s shift in policy pushes back on Obama’s partial lift on the tourism ban and channels American commerce toward independent small businesses rather than the Cuban military monopoly, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (GAESA), according to The Hill.
However, Loyola students are being reassured that study-abroad programs will still be offered.
Under the Obama administration, 300,000 Americans traveled to Cuba in 2016. The normalization of relations saw an increase in educational and cultural exchange groups visiting the island.
Under Trump’s policies, educational trips abroad will still be feasible, but a spring break vacation to Havana may not. Similar to Obama’s restrictions, visitors must fall under one of 12 specific categories of visitations, including education, family visits and journalistic activities.
Trump, however, has eliminated the educational subcategory of “people-to-people” visitations, which allowed American visitors to design their own “educational” itinerary, meaning they must plan the content of their trip. Some visitors used it as a way around the tourism ban, disguising what was really a vacation as an “educational” excursion under the subcategory.
Dr. Ernesto Domínguez López, a professor at the Universidad de La Habana, spoke to Loyola students and faculty about the changes in policy at the “Cuba – U.S. Relations from Obama to Trump” event Oct. 30. in Cuneo Hall. While he says the future of U.S.-Cuban relations is uncertain with Trump’s ambivalent stances on international issues, he assured students that studying abroad in Cuba is still possible.
“Cuba is open to receive students and faculty from the States or wherever they are from,” López said. “The impact on student travel may come from the perception from within the United States and the individual university’s procedures more than anything else.”
Since 2015, Loyola and other U.S. universities, such as Harvard University, University of Florida, University of Pittsburgh, Emory University, University of Georgia, University of California at Davis and University of Alabama-Birmingham have created opportunities for students to study abroad in the previously off-limit country.
During the summer of 2017, a group of Loyola students visited Havana for 16 days to study Cuban politics and society as a part of a new program offered through The Office of International Programs.
Loyola professor Peter Sanchez, who led the group of students on the trip, plans to return again this summer and said he’s relieved the shift in policy won’t affect Loyola’s program.
“The trip was very successful last year,” Sanchez said. “I don’t foresee any real difference next year. There are really no real restrictions on students.”
Loyola professor John Goheen is also planning a student trip to Havana this spring designed to teach journalism students how to shoot solo stories. This won’t be his first time in Cuba, having already conducted a trip with film students to Havana in October of 2016.
Goheen said that while Trump’s actions won’t affect his upcoming visit, it’s clear that U.S.-Cuban relations are moving in a different direction from where they were following improvements made just a year ago under the Obama administration.
“There was the hope that [Cuba] would continue to open up and transition,” Goheen said. “Of course, the current administration has squashed that a little bit.”
While visiting Cuba with Sanchez last summer, 19-year-old sophomore Anne Alderman was surprised to find the tense political environment between the two nations Americans are familiar with wasn’t apparent during her visit.
However, the sonic attacks in Cuba against American and Canadian diplomats in the past year have placed many potential travelers on edge. The attacks, consisting of painful sound waves causing symptoms ranging from severe nausea to permanent hearing loss, have hurt 24 diplomats and their families. The incident caused the Trump administration to pull many of its diplomats from Cuba and expelled two-thirds of the Cuban Embassy from the United States. While the State Department hasn’t blamed Cuba for the attacks, the cause of the diplomats’ illnesses is still unknown.
Sanchez said he’s not worried about the State Department’s recent travel alert and plans to move ahead with this summer’s trip.
“The students and I will be staying in private homes,” Sanchez said. “While we may go into a hotel here and there, only  people were affected out of a country of [more than] 11 million people and millions of visitors a year. I suspect now that they are investigating this, it isn’t something that will continue to happen.”
Like Sanchez, Goheen said he isn’t concerned about his students’ safety during their visit.
Sophomore Conor McGuire said he agreed that American students shouldn’t take Trump’s actions or the sonic threats as a reason not to visit the island, explaining that it’s important for the next generation of Americans and Cubans to have an open dialogue.
“They understand we are not our government and they want Americans to see the best Cuba has to offer,” the 19-year-old political science and history double major said. “Things aren’t perfect but things aren’t nearly as bad as people would have you believe.”