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Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

As relations between the United States and Cuba continue to thaw and meaningful ties between both countries are strengthened, many believe that we’re on a glide path to full normalization. In less than two years, the Obama administration has issued five rounds of regulatory changes to ease travel and trade with Cuba. Embassies have reopened in each country. Cuba has been removed from the United States’ list of state sponsors of terrorism. Bipartisan congressional delegations, business leaders, and even the president, have visited the island in hopes of further cementing normalization.

Proponents of education diplomacy are commended on a job well done. Ten years of continued advocacy by NAFSA, our partners, and the larger coalition advocating for normalized relations with Cuba, paid off. We in the field of international education got everything we could possibly want, right?

Not quite. Not yet.

While President Obama’s administrative measures and bold leadership have heralded a new era of U.S.-Cuba relations, long-term, meaningful ties will only be sustained by changing existing laws, which requires action from the U.S. Congress. Despite the progress of the past two years, the 50-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba remains law and makes facilitating meaningful educational exchanges unnecessarily difficult. Though the president has relaxed restrictions, he can only do so within the bounds of current law. Should the next president have differing views on U.S.-Cuba engagement, he or she can still undo all of the progress that’s been made to date.

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U.S. academic travel to Cuba was decimated by severe executive branch directives in 2004. Consequently, most study abroad programs conducted by American institutions in Cuba shuttered, effectively abandoning one of the only avenues of understanding and collaboration that existed between our two countries.

The resulting 92% plummet in U.S. students studying in Cuba proved nearly fatal for Cuban exchange programs. The few programs that managed to remain open following the restrictions limped forward until January 2011, when NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the academic exchange community, and the larger coalition won a historic advocacy victory with the Obama Administration’s executive action to restore academic travel.

students in cuba line graph

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We are gripped by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Europe as a seemingly unending number of people seek refuge away from countries wracked with war and terrorism.

It can be easy for Americans to look across the ocean and call for swift action to address the suffering of those seeking safety and a better future for themselves and their children. It is harder for us to deal with the similar tragedies in our own backyard. The number of refugees at the U.S. southern border fleeing from violence and narco-terrorism in Central America has declined dramatically from last year. But it isn’t because those countries have gotten safer, it is because the United State has worked closely with Mexico and other nations to turn people away before they get to the U.S. border.

Those who sought protection in the United States were sent in large numbers to detention centers – jails – to be held for months at a time. Mothers and children—babies—were held in jails for months without knowing what would happen to them. The stated goal of the Administration putting them in jail was to deter others from seeking protection in the United States. Only recently did a court order the swift release of families from detention while they await decisions on their requests to remain in the United States.

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Cuban Embassy

At 10:30 a.m. on Monday, July 20, the Cuban flag was raised outside of the newly official Cuban Embassy in Washington, D.C., for the first time in more than 50 years. The crowd erupted into applause and cheers of “iViva Cuba!”

Nearly ten hours later, I walked up to the embassy on my way home from the NAFSA office and was happy to see that the celebrations had not died down. A large crowd was still chanting, singing, drumming and dancing on the sidewalk. Colorful signs calling for the end of both the travel ban and trade embargo were still weaved through the posts of the fence in front of the embassy building. I was proud to personally witness such a historic moment.

The opening of the Cuban and American embassies on Monday is an important step forward toward fully normalizing relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. As NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson said at the recent NAFSA conference in Boston, “Engagement, not isolation, is the best way to work toward human rights, prosperity, and security for all.”

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Rep. Donald M. Payne

Congressman Don Payne, who represented Newark, New Jersey, in the House of Representatives for more than 20 years, died March 6 of colon cancer. His death represents the passing of yet another member of a unique generation of members of Congress who respected the institution and sought election to it because they took policy seriously and saw it as a means of doing good for people both in America and abroad.

I had the privilege of knowing Don when I worked for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He served on the Africa subcommittee for most, if not all, of his tenure in the House, and was deeply engaged in the defense and promotion of human rights in Africa. But although Africa was his focus, his involvement was broader. The Washington Office on Latin America, on whose Board of Directors I have the honor to serve, issued a statement describing Don as “a long-time champion of peace and justice around the world,” and lauding his efforts to advance human rights in Colombia:  “He systematically took action to protect the lives of Afro-Colombian activists, human rights defenders, and internally displaced leaders.”

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I was pleased to recently co-author an opinion piece with Asa Hutchinson, the first under secretary for border and transportation security for the Department of Homeland Security, on the subject of national security ten years after 9/11. You can read the piece below, or download a copy on the NAFSA Web site: “Examining Lessons Learned: Security and Openness in Post-9/11 America.” I look forward to your comments and hope you will join us in this important national conversation.


Examining Lessons Learned: Security and Openness in Post-9/11 America
By Asa Hutchinson and Marlene M. Johnson

Asa Hutchinson served as the first under secretary for border and transportation security in the newly created Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005 and represented Arkansas in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1997 and 2001. Marlene M. Johnson is executive director and CEO of NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Mark Twain said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

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Last week in a Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed titled “No Better Export: Higher Education,” Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez described his experience of leading the first-ever Commerce Department education trade mission to Jakarta, Indonesia, and Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, Vietnam. Recruiters and admissions counselors from 56 U.S. colleges and universities joined him on the trip (which was supported by NAFSA), and it appears to have been a great success. Thousands of students attended education fairs in the three cities, eager for information on studying in the United States. Indonesia and Vietnam were selected for this first-ever mission due to their emerging economies and burgeoning middle classes. The Obama Administration also has pledged to double the number of Indonesian students studying in the United States by 2014.

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If we are able to observe in the afterlife the accuracy of the statements that we made while on Earth, there must be no one more blessed with eternal happiness than the Spanish philosopher George Santayana, whose famous observation, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” is confirmed every day.

Right now, Santayana must be particularly delighted with our colleagues at the Heritage Foundation, who, it appears, have forgotten yet again how important educational and cultural exchanges have been for America’s security, public diplomacy, and international leadership. The foundation’s October 28, 2010, Backgrounder on Budget and Spending proposes eliminating these programs entirely (along with many other worthy international programs). This is particularly dismaying because, only a few years ago, NAFSA cosponsored an event with the Heritage Foundation and others at which leading experts made a strong case for placing international education and exchange at the heart of America’s public diplomacy efforts. In 2008, when NAFSA released International Education: The Neglected Dimension of Public Diplomacy, which advocated more resources and a strengthened role for exchanges, Heritage’s Jim Carafano wrote: “The association has to be commended for bringing attention to a vital issue impacting on national competitiveness. Americans need to pay attention.”

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Greg Mortenson
Image courtesy Central Asia Institute

Last night at the National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington, DC, I had the privilege of listening to Greg Mortenson speak passionately about his life’s work of building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. You may know him as the author of the bestsellers Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at A Time and Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is also co-founder of the nonprofit Central Asia Institute and founder of Pennies for Peace.

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President Obama announced this week that the administration will take action soon to overhaul U.S. export control policy to, as the president put it, “focus our resources on the threats that matter most, and help us work more effectively with our allies in the field.” We applaud this move – the need for change is long overdue.

The administration’s plan to review and overhaul the system was first outlined in a speech delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the spring. Last updated in 1979, the current system is ill-suited to the pace of modern research and development. Gates describes it as a “byzantine amalgam of authorities, roles, and missions” – prone to creating confusion and increasing the likelihood of mistakes and duplication, even jeopardizing the ability of the U.S. military and other agencies to protect American citizens.

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