Saturday, August 30, 2008

Judge Overturns Florida's Ban on Academic Travel to Cuba

Chronicle for Higher Education
News Blog

August 29, 2008
Judge Overturns Florida's Ban on Academic Travel to Cuba

A federal judge has struck down a Florida law that restricts students, faculty members, and researchers at the state’s public colleges and universities from traveling to Cuba and four other countries that the U.S. government considers terrorist states.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida had challenged the law in court on behalf of the Faculty Senate at Florida International University, arguing that the statute violated faculty members’ First Amendment rights and impinged on the federal government’s ability to regulate foreign commerce.

The two-year-old law prevents students, professors, and researchers at public universities and community colleges in Florida from using state or federal funds, or private foundation grants administered by their institutions, to travel to Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Those at private colleges in Florida are forbidden to use state funds for that purpose.

The decision, issued Thursday by the U.S. District Court in Miami, reversed an earlier ruling upholding the ban. In her order, Judge Patricia Seitz upheld one aspect of the law: State funds may not be used for travel to those countries. But nearly all such trips rely on private funds.

Judge Seitz agreed with the ACLU’s argument that the state should not be allowed to regulate travel financed with private funds and that the Florida Legislature could not interfere with federal foreign-relations powers.

“It’s a blow for academic freedom,” Thomas Breslin, a professor of international relations and chairman of Florida International University’s Faculty Senate, said of the decision during a news conference this afternoon.

The law was passed in 2006 after a Florida International professor and his wife, a university employee, were accused of spying for Cuba. —Karin Fischer

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Cuba looks at trimming social welfare

Financial Times
Cuba looks at trimming social welfare

By Richard Lapper in London

Published: August 18 2008 22:38 | Last updated: August 18 2008 22:38

Cuba, one of the world’s last surviving Communist states, is looking at watering down the generous social welfare system that has been a cornerstone of its economy for nearly 50 years, according to a senior government official.

Alfredo Jam, head of macroeconomic analysis in the economy ministry, told the Financial Times that Cubans had been “over-protected” by a system that subsidised food costs and limited the amount people could earn, prompting labour shortages in important industries.

“We can’t give people so much security with their income that it affects their willingness to work,” Mr Jam said. “We can have equality in access to education and health but not in equality of income.” He said the emphasis on equality had helped maintain social cohesion during the 1990s when Cuba’s economy came close to collapse after the withdrawal of Soviet assistance, but “when the economy recovers you realise that there is [a level of] protection that has to change. We can’t have a situation where it is not work that gives access to goods,” he said.

Mr Jam’s remarks represent a rare and unusually frank insight into official thinking on Cuba’s future economic direction in the wake of the resignation of its long-time leader, Fidel Castro, in February.

Under Cuba’s new president, the former leader’s younger brother Raúl, the country has eased restrictions on bonuses that can be paid to workers and lifted bans on products such as mobile phones and DVD players.

Mr Castro also decentralised the country’s agricultural system and said idle land would be offered to co-operatives and private farmers to lower dependency on imported food.

However, the welfare system has remained almost intact. Under it, all Cubans are entitled to basic foods, including bread, eggs, rice, beans and milk, at much cheaper prices than those elsewhere in the world. Rents and utilities are extremely cheap and education and healthcare are free.

Any reform of these universal benefits would be controversial within the governing Communist party and unlikely to happen quickly.

But Mr Jam’s comments reflect growing frustration in official circles about poor performance in agriculture, construction and manufacturing. “There isn’t motivation to work in these sectors,” he said.