Cuban 'Granma' gets cold shoulder from wary US government officials

You need a license to bring Granma into the country through the front door, so she's been slipping in the back way through Canada. For years officials pretended not to notice her, but suddenly she's become persona non grata.m

Granma is the official organ of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. A weekly edition is published in English, aimed at United States readers. Printed cheaply with an old, oil-based ink that gives off an unpleasant odor, Granma is now the focus of a battle over the right of Americans to obtain Cuban literature.

The current round is being fought between the Treasry Department, which wants to ease existing regulations, and the State Department, which does not concur. The two must reach an agreement in order to clarify administration policy.

The Cuban Assets Control Regulations, which went into effect July 8, 1963, established a trade embargo with Cuba. The licensing requirement for importing Cuban literature is included in these regulations, but Cuba scholars say it was never enforced.

"In the past, successive administrations took the attitude that printed material was not the kind of commerce they were interested in restricting; it was educational material," said William Leogrande, director of political science at American University.

Much of the Cuban literature coming to the US is brought to Montreal on Cubana de Aviacion flights and dropped into the Canadian mail system. Envelopes mailed from Canada to the US generally are not inspected.

In mid-May, when the Canadian mail strike was imminent, Boston customs officials were startled by a sudden influx of Cuban literature and notified the Foreign Assets Control (FAC) division of the Treasury Department in Washington. FAC spokesman Donald Boudreau said such a quantity of Cuban publications had never before surfaced in any one place at any one time.

The 1963 regulations were promptly invoked: The material was impounded and addressees informed of the need to obtain a license or provide proof of one. To qualify for a license, a person has to be a journalist, professor, researcher, or the like with a bona fidem interest in Latin America.

Many were reluctant to apply, afraid the licensing procedure was merely a means of compiling a list of suspicious characters. Others objected on principle, asserting that the First Amendment proscribed the use of licenses to restrict the flow of information.

On July 21 representatives from the American-Civil Liberties Union, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), the Center for Constitutional Rights, and various other groups met with Treasury Department officials in Washington. Hal Mayerson of the NLG credits this meeting as well as public and media pressure with convincing Treasury to draft new, less restrictive regulations.

Mr. Mayerson says the new regulations apparently would allow individuals to purchase one copy of each publication, and groups to purchase up to 50 copies, with no license required.

Because the proposed regulations involved a foreign country, a copy was sent to the State Department for approval. Instead of concurring, the State Department sent Treasury its own recommendations, which have not been made public. Robert Levine of the FAC says discussions are continuing.

"The government is basing the licensing requirement on the alleged goal of keeping Cuba from benefiting financially from the sale of literature," says Mayerson. "But the maximum Cuba could realize through this is minuscule compared with the $50 million a year it gets from American tourism. And it is nothing when balanced against the First Amendment rights of Americans."

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.