THE RIGHT OF EVERY AMERICAN TO GO TO CUBA AS HIS OWN REPORTER,  i.e. AS PRESS
   When I first went to Cuba in 1989, the Cuban Assets Control Regulations did distinguish, almost correctly, between other travelers and press. They abridged travel rights, but granted a "general license" to "persons who are traveling for the purpose of gathering news, making news or documentary films, engaging in professional research, or for similar activities" (3l, CFR, ch.V, 515.560, 1985), an at once sweeping and ineptly selective concept of press.
   They illegally presumed to "license" the exercise of press rights, but didn't ask anyone to get or carry the imaginary "license." They also presumed to limit kinds of expenses allowed, barring "transactions in connection with tourist travel," for instance, a clearly illegal trespass on a reporter's or researcher's creative space, but that was easy to ignore, since no actual contact with any arrogantly parental bureaucrats was called for.  In effect, 515.560(1985), by granting the invisible "general license" to anyone "traveling for the purpose of gathering news," conceded exactly what it says at the top of this document, that any American can go to Cuba as his own reporter without asking anyone's permission.
     There was no doubt about this in 1989, when the "Cuban travel ban" acknowledged it, and there is still no doubt about it.  The government  has never gone around announcing it, and your corporate mass media, to whom it should have been important, have helped keep it a secret, too.  But it's not a matter of opinion.  It's a fact, that you could have looked up for yourself long ago, as I did in 1989. And having looked it up, you could have gone to Cuba long ago as your own reporter, as I did, publishing the news you gathered in any form that suited you, as a chain letter to your family, in a club bulletin, or as leaflets handed out in the street, and you'd have been immune from prosecution.
   AND YOU STILL CAN.  Again, this is instruction, not advice, but I am referring to an existential right that no legitimate state has any business messing with.  On top of that, it is a right locked in by the First Amendment guarantee that "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech, or of the press."  And a literal mountain of court precedent has established that the freedom referred to in the First Amendment belongs to  every single person, not just  major media personnel, and that the press referred to includes any kind of publication, no matter how modest or amateurish.  In 1791, for instance, newspapers were likely to be "broadsides," single sheets printed on one side.
   So when rightwing congressmen like Jesse Helms decided to close the loopholes in the "travel law" in '93, '95, and '99, either unaware or unconcerned that among the offensive loopholes was the First Amendment, they and Bill Clinton, who signed their bills, were breaking the law.
  Among the changes to the part of 515 that affects the press, 515.563(a) (1999)  now extends the "general license" (the immaculate "license" that doesn't have to be gotten or carried) only to "persons regularly employed as journalists by a (sic) news reporting organization or... as supporting broadcast or technical personnel," who must stick to "transactions... directly incident to journalistic activities," whatever these lawmakers think that means.
    Of course, words and phrases like "regularly," "journalists," "organization," "news reporting organization," and "journalistic activities" are much more flexible than the authors of part 515.563(a) seem to imagine.  Obviously, anyone can "regularly" employ himself  to report news about Cuban tourist prospects in a bulletin to his friends and qualify perfectly.  But the lawmakers think they have effectively limited the independent exercise of First Amendment rights to their friends in the corporate media, because, in much more perfect violation of the 14th Amendment, 515.563(b)(1999) offers only a "special license" to now second class free-lance journalists, for one article at a time, application to be accompanied by an itinerary, a resume, a work schedule which some bureaucrat thinks is reasonable, and proof one's journalistic experience is "significant" to the same bureaucrat.
   This would be outrageous even if it wasn't a transparent attempt to abridge freedom of the press and a clear (though probably unconscious) violation of the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment, but it is, and it won't stand up in a legitimate court, because, under the First Amendment, Congress can't legally make such a law.

BACK TO INDEX