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Chelsea’s Classmates Going To Cuba For Vacation, Then Possibly Jail Organization Protests Law Banning Most Americans From Traveling To Cuba

Thu., June 22, 1995

Neither of their heads poked much higher than the clump of microphones at their morning press conference.

But there they stood - two wide-eyed teenage classmates of first daughter Chelsea Clinton’s - staring down the possibility of 10 years in prison and up to $300,000 in fines.

All because of their choice for a summer vacation: Cuba.

“The best way to learn about people is through interaction,” said Jody Avirgan, 14, rocking on his tennis shoes before a battery of cameras at the headquarters of the American Civil Liberties Union. “This trip is pretty much perfect for that.”

Avirgan and Sarah Park, 17 - fellow students at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington - are among 35 American students setting out Friday for a week in Cuba, where they plan to enjoy the beaches, ride bikes, work in the fields, see Cubans and communism up close and personal.

The trip - sponsored by the San Francisco-based Freedom to Travel Campaign - is the group’s latest act of civil disobedience in a continuing effort to ease U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba. The group argues that what amounts to a travel ban for most Americans is arbitrary, onerous and in violation of the First Amendment.

The ban is the law. The decades-old Trading with the Enemy Act and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 bar all Americans from spending money in Cuba except for pre-approved persons such as diplomats and journalists. All others - including students and academics - must apply for a special license from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Which the students refuse to do.

The students’ challenge - cheered on by liberal parents who predominate at Sidwell - could produce an uncomfortable moment at the PTA for Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

But it also spotlights a problem for the Oval Office: How can the president continue to promote greater people-topeople contact, yet forbid widespread travel between the countries?

Richard Newcomb, director of the Treasury Department’s office of foreign assets control, sent the students a warning last week that their “open defiance” of U.S. law could land them in the slammer for 10 years. A Treasury spokesman called Newcomb’s letter routine.


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