Preparations for a study abroad program in Cuba began when President Obama eased travel restrictions to Cuba four years ago. Now that diplomatic ties have been normalized between the U.S. and Cuba, UCLA will allow students to study in organized trips starting in summer 2015. This new program was enabled by UCLA working with the Council on International Educational Exchange, a nonprofit organization certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to set up a student operation in the city of Havana, Cuba.
Havana is the location where, in January 2006, the Cuban and Iranian governments signed a document to sustain economic and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries. Cuba-Iran relations are, in fact, very friendly. Iran has worked with Cuba to use an electronic jamming station outside Havana which blocks American broadcasting into its borders. Cuba also supports Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Former Cuban president Fidel Castro praised Iran “increasing its ability to fight big powers by the day.”
It is not surprising that a government that has been called one of the most corrupt countries in the Caribbean and Central America has partnered with the toxic Iranian government, which constantly poses as a threat to the world at large. The Cuban government is responsible for systematic human rights abuses, including arbitrary imprisonment, unjust trials, and political executions. Cuban law limits freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. Censorship in Cuba has been at the center of complaints. Human Rights Watch stated that even though Cuba, officially atheist until now, “permits greater opportunities for religious expression than it did in past years, and has allowed several religious-run humanitarian groups to operate, the government still maintains tight control on religious institutions, affiliated groups, and individual believers.”
There is not enough to say about the corruption of the Cuban government in the past and into the present. The fact that a university such as UCLA embraces our countries’ new “friendship” is moronic, considering the University’s recent ethics requirement that student government (USAC) members may not go on free or sponsored trips with pro-Israel organizations if they are elected. Several anti-Israel UCLA student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace have also attempted to pressure USAC into voting to end all study abroad programs to Israel, presenting their case as one of “human rights.”
Last year, SJP members filed a complaint against student government members Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers for having gone on free trips to Israel during their winter breaks. Singh and Rogers were accused of causing "conflict of interest" in their decisions to go on trips that support Israel, as it might influence their decisions in Israel-related student government votes in the future. Other USAC members were pressured into signing the above mentioned ethics statement and pledging that they will refrain from taking organized trips to Israel so as not to alienate anti-Israel members of the student body. This past November 2014, USAC voted on a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution which calls for the cessation of study abroad programs in Israel. The resolution was passed by an 8-2 USAC vote.
Students who charge the Israeli government with human rights violations, yet embrace Cuban diplomacy on campus, should be charged with fraud. They fail to acknowledge their double standards with regards to human rights. The very existence of the Israeli government is a protecting rock for Israelis and neighboring Palestinians, while the Cuban government has for years defamed its own people. Israel is the only legitimate democratic country in the Middle East, and it provides protection and necessary benefits to its citizens and none-citizens alike; Cuba continues to torture, enslave, and rob from its citizens while supporting worldwide terrorism and forming close ties with other corrupt dictatorships such as Iran and North Korea.
This is, unfortunately, an indication that our university leadership does not care about human rights as it falsely advertises. Cuba was added to the list of student destinations while Israel’s presence on that list is slowly fading. At the rate that our country and our universities are moving, we can soon expect organized trips to Iran and other countries like it.