290. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rogers) to Secretary of State Kissinger 1

Cuban Travel


At the moment we validate U.S. passports for travel to Cuba only for athletes, journalists, medical specialists, scholars (in a narrow sense), representatives of the Red Cross and humanitarian cases. In the other direction, we permit travel to the U.S. by Cubans only if they are coming for inter-governmental meetings or a sports competition.

I suggest a modest relaxation in both the passport restrictions and in our visa policy, to permit travel either way for cultural, scientific or religious purposes.

The change would be implemented on a case-by-case basis, and need not attract particular public attention. In all events, since its purpose would be to quicken the flow of ideas, it should not be taken, either here or in Cuba, as a particular favor to Castro. Ours is the open society, not his. We would remain in full compliance with the 1964 OAS resolution on sanctions, and we would maintain the bar to business and tourist travel.

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In September, you extended the existing U.S. passport restrictions without change until March 15 (Tab A). Under that authorization the Department continues to administer regulations (Tab B) with which most U.S. citizens comply, even though the courts have ruled we have no legal authority to prevent U.S. citizen travel to any foreign country. The ban on travel in the cultural area draws particular fire in light of our policy of approving travel to Cuba by athletes, journalists and scholars. We were recently criticized for refusing to validate the passport of the U.S. ballerina, Cynthia Gregory, for travel to an international dance festival in Havana. (She ultimately went without validation.) Earlier this year, we refused passport validations for the U.S. citizen members of the Canadian Royal Winnipeg Ballet to perform in Cuba—to the considerable unhappiness of that company and the Canadian Government.

We currently have a request from the Federation of American Scientists for validations on behalf of a group headed by Herbert F. York, former Director of Defense R & D under the Eisenhower Administration (Tab C). Strict application of the regulations in force would not permit us to validate the passports of Dr. York’s party unless the purpose of the travel was directly related to research for subsequent public dissemination, which does not appear to be the case.

This apparent irrationality in our policy could be removed by your determination that the list of exceptions should be extended to include persons of recognized standing in our cultural, scientific or religious communities when the travel involved is for a serious purpose. This would be accomplished by recourse to 22CFR 51.73 (c) which reads: “In the discretion of the Secretary, an application may be considered to be in the national interest of the United States...” No change in the passport regulations is required. I believe it is in the national interest at this point to permit selected travel to Cuba in the scientific, cultural and religious fields. The ban on validations for business or tourist travel would continue.

A mirror problem exists regarding Cubans wishing to visit the U.S. With a few humanitarian exceptions, we issue visas only to those Cubans coming to attend international conferences or internationally-sponsored sports competitions. Our policy has been to deny visas to individuals invited to attend non-governmental conferences or events of a cultural, scientific or religious character.

We recently reviewed and rejected the request of the Cuban theologian, Dr. Sergio Arce, whose projected visit had strong support from U.S. academic and religious circles. You may recall our refusal last January of a visa for a Cuban film director to receive a legitimate film award in New York, a refusal which generated considerable criticism [Page 782] across the country. A pending request (Tab D) from the American Society of International Law asks for visas for Cuban law students to participate in moot court competitions next year.

I believe it is desirable to alter our practice of turning down visa requests to Cubans invited to attend conferences or events in this country sponsored by respectable cultural, academic or religious organizations. A change here would forestall criticism by members of Congress and others that we are impeding the free flow of information. No change in the wording of our visa regulations would be required. ARA would screen applications in these categories carefully.

It is unlikely that these minor modifications would be seen elsewhere in the hemisphere as a significant departure from our Cuba policy. Some Latin American Governments might note this small shift, but in our opinion would attach little importance to it—particularly in the wake of the far more dramatic exception made for Senators Pell and Javits.


That you authorize ARA and SCA to act jointly to validate passports on a case-by-case basis for Americans of recognized standing in the cultural, academic and religious communities wishing to go to Cuba for legitimate and serious purposes.

That you authorize the issuance of visas to Cubans wishing to come to the United States to attend non-governmental conferences or events of a religious, scientific or cultural character.

  1. Summary: This memorandum proposed loosening travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P820113–1621. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Simon, Gleysteen, and Shlaudeman and cleared by Gantz and by Frederick Smith in SCA. The first recommendation was disapproved; the second was approved. Not attached and not found are: Tab A—Background Memos re Passport Restrictions, Tab B—Department Regulations, Tab C—Request by Federation of American Scientists, and Tab D—Pending Request from American Society of International Law.