Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Florida bans educational travel to Cuba

Miami Herald online
Posted on Wed, May. 31, 2006

Law bans travel to `terrorist states'
A new state law will crack down on educational trips to Cuba and the use of state money to travel to any of the other four states designated as `terrorist.'

TALLAHASSEE - Colleges and universities in Florida now are banned from using state money to travel to such countries as Cuba under a law Gov. Jeb Bush signed Tuesday.

The Travel to Terrorist States Act also prohibits a state-paid school from spending any money -- public or private -- on any aspect of organizing a trip to any of the five nations listed by the U.S. State Department as a state sponsor of terror.

Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera, who has sponsored a number of Cuba-crackdown bills, said the law was designed to stop his constituents' tax money from underwriting Fidel Castro's regime.

Castro ''took a lot of people's land and freedom, and a lot of Cuban Americans feel there's an abuse of the travel laws,'' Rivera said. ``We don't think any legitimate education work can be done in a totalitarian state.''

Though the bill sailed unanimously out of the Legislature, some academics opposed it, saying it ultimately will lead to closed minds, as well as closed borders. Florida International University Professor Lisandro Perez said the law reflects ''all-around demagoguery'' and would be challenged in court.

''The public opinion battle is over,'' he said. 'The `I'll see you in court' round has just begun.''

Rivera said the idea for the law was inspired by the arrests earlier this year of FIU Professor Carlos Alvarez and his wife, Elsa Alvarez, an FIU counselor, on charges of being Cuban government agents. Carlos Alvarez had traveled to Cuba several times.

FIU Professor Uva de Aragon said the United States should be encouraging research on Cuba, not preventing it. For example, she said, if the United States had more information on Iraq beforehand, it could have avoided many mistakes.

''I don't think it's a wise policy,'' she said. ``It's important for the United States to have people who study Cuba in order for them to be informed of what happens in the country.''

De Aragon, associate director of FIU's Cuban Research Institute, said she does not see a way around the law, since its scope is wide.

The travel ban takes advantage of President Bush's 2004 decision to tighten travel restrictions to Cuba. Bush required that the U.S. Treasury Department grant a travel license to an institution of higher learning only if it held courses in Cuba that lasted at least 10 weeks.

Previously, trips were shorter and therefore less expensive.

Now, with the state law, a state college or university professor would have to use private money donated to him to underwrite the trips -- a virtual impossibility. State money, including salaries, cannot be used ''to implement, organize, direct, coordinate or administer, or to support the implementation, organization, direction, coordination or administration of'' such a trip.

Such private institutions as the University of Miami could still organize Cuba trips if they don't directly use state money for the travel or the planning. But Rivera said he may consider legislation next year that would prohibit them from receiving any state money at all if any of their departments sponsor trips to the five states considered to be terrorist.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Havana's China immigrants

Havana's China immigrants keep traditions

By VANESSA ARRINGTON, Associated Press WriterTue May 30, 4:13 AM ET
AP Photo/Javier Galeano:

They came as young men and women, and never left.

Elderly Chinese immigrants still walk the streets of Havana's "Barrio Chino," or Chinatown, where they play mahjong and eat lunch together, practice tai chi and read magazines from their homeland.

There are just 143 natives of China currently registered in Havana — most of them men, according to Cristina Nip, a descendant who runs Chinatown's social work program. After decades on the Caribbean island, they say they feel just as Cuban as Chinese.

"Equal parts both," said 70-year-old Julio Li, whose name itself reflects the blend. "I speak Spanish, and I speak Chinese. I drink Cuban rum, and Chinese tea."

The retired Li read a Chinese-language Newsweek as he puffed away on a cigar, relaxing in a high-ceilinged room of the Min Chih Tang association. He planned to play mahjong later to prepare for a competition that is part of a festival celebrating Cuba's Chinese heritage.

Li came to Cuba with his parents when he was just 14 years old. His father sold vegetables in a Havana market — as would Li.

Many Chinese immigrants arrived on the island after fleeing communism and economic difficulties in China in the late 1940s and 1950s, building a bustling merchant and agricultural class before their chosen refuge also became communist under Fidel Castro.

Some decided to move again, heading to other large Chinese migrant communities in the United States and Latin America after Castro's 1959 revolution. Those who stayed turned their shops and businesses over to the government and got new state jobs.

"Things have really changed here — I just go with the flow," said Li, who said he stayed in Cuba because he lacked the means and the desire to leave. "I don't get involved in politics. Not Cuban politics, not Chinese politics — none of it."

Li is on the younger end of China natives in Havana, most of whom are in their 80s and 90s. Three centenarians from the community passed away last year, according to Nip, who makes house visits across Havana to keep track of those remaining. Several elderly Chinese also live in other cities on the island, though the largest concentration is in the capital.

The Chinese presence in Cuba dates to 1847, when a group of 200 immigrants from Guangdong province arrived on a Spanish ship to work on Cuba's sugarcane plantations. Tens of thousands of Chinese followed from the mid- to late-1800s as contract laborers, many working for years in virtual slavery.

After slavery was abolished in the late 19th century, the Chinese began forming an ascending class of restaurateurs, laundry shopowners and vegetable merchants. Many of them brought their entire families over from China to live with them.

Of the latest flood of immigrants who came to Cuba more than 50 years ago, many have never gone back to visit China, others just once or twice. In 2003, the Cuban and Chinese governments hosted a trip home for five of the immigrants, and plans are in the works to organize visits for about a dozen more, Nip said.

Some of those left in Cuba still pay some attention to political and economic developments in China but seem more interested in the personal news they get in letters from their relatives.

"I'm always thinking about my family over there," said Ofelia Lau Si, 85, who moved to Cuba with her husband in 1949 and is one of just 30 female natives left. "I went back to visit them once, and I was so happy."

But she also has a large family here now, complete with Cuban in-laws and grandchildren who hardly speak Chinese. "They're a bit far from the traditions," she said.

Next to Lau Si sat another China native, 80-year-old Rosa Wong, as they waited for their tai chi class to begin in an open-air Chinatown community center.

Wong's children married other Chinese, and her 20-year-old granddaughter Meyling Wong has become one of the top athletes in Havana's Wushu sport association, winning medals at competitions around the world. "My grandmother often brought me to Chinatown when I was a little girl," Meyling Wong said. "I was always fascinated by the culture here."

Angel Chiong, 81, has gone back to China several times, and still feels a strong link to his homeland. He is administrator of Kwong Wah Po, Havana's only Chinese newspaper, which is published every 15 days.

"I was born there, and that stays with you forever," he said. "But when you're as old as I am, here or there — what's the difference?"