Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on May 30 signed legislation prohibiting state-supported schools from using public or private funds for research trips to five nations designated by Washington as sponsors of terrorism. Cuba, of course, is one of them.

The Travel to Terrorist States Act cuts off travel by faculty members at Florida’s public universities to meet with colleagues in Cuba, even though it is legal under U.S. law. Damián Fernández, director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University in Miami, said, “This law shuts down the entire Cuban research agenda.”

Critics say the law’s real target is Florida International University and its Cuban Research Institute.

Howard Simon of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said the law violates academic freedom and interferes with federal policies. “A challenge in the courts is inevitable,” he said.

Florida academics say the law will harm Florida’s economy. Some told reporters it would interfere with efforts to learn about Cuban agriculture, marine environment and ecology. They cited developments in Cuba’s citrus industry, changes in the marine reefs around the island, and expanding exploration for oil under Cuba’s offshore waters as topics of interest to Florida.

Miami Herald columnist Ana Menendez commented June 4: “The depressing thing is that such a seriously flawed bill could ever pass. Its unanimous support is an example of how easy it has become to play the Cuba card and how terrified lawmakers are of seeming soft on Castro.”

Miami Republican state Rep. David Rivera, sponsor of the legislation, said, “I don’t think there’s anything [in Cuba] that cannot be studied in the Dominican Republic or other Caribbean islands.”

Rivera said he introduced the law because of the arrest in January of FIU education professor Carlos Alvarez and his wife Elsa Alvarez who is a counselor at FIU. They are alleged to have provided the Cuban government with nonclassified information on anti-Cuban activities of right-wing Cuban Americans in South Florida. Carlos Alvarez published articles on the subject.

Rivera said this case “showed that we need to protect the reputation and educational integrity of our universities, and that’s what this law does.”

Although Florida media cast the pair as Cuban spies, they are charged only with failure to register as agents of a foreign government. They are being held without bail. Their trial is not likely to begin until early in 2007.

Defense attorneys were expected to introduce taped evidence at a June 14 bail hearing that during three days of interrogation in 2005, the FBI had assured Carlos Alvarez that he was not a target for legal action. He is said to have provided copious information, but hesitated at naming his Miami contacts working for the Cuban government. Reportedly the FBI pressured Alvarez into becoming an informant for the U.S. government.

Apparently the FBI had long relied upon a telephonic listening device placed in the couple’s bedroom.

As further indication of its stepped up anti-Cuba offensive in Florida, on June 6 the Bush administration suspended operations of three agencies providing travel and remittance services to Cuban Americans in the state. Thirty such agencies have been closed down in the past year.

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