American med students flee Cuba in fear of U.S.

They cut education short in face of U.S. restrictions

The World

July 05, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

HAVANA - American medical students in Cuba have returned to the United States, missing their final exams, over fears that U.S. authorities will jail them, fine them thousands of dollars or revoke their citizenship for studying medicine on the island.

New Bush administration measures that took effect Wednesday severely restrict Americans' presence on the island.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control, an arm of the Treasury Department, issued a letter June 25 saying the students could stay until Aug. 1. But many of the students didn't get the word in time.

"The majority of the students have left," said Naketa Thomas, 26, a medical student from New York.

James Cason, the top U.S. diplomat in Cuba, said he did not know that the American students were cutting their education short.

"It wasn't our intention," he said. "We'll have to get word to them somehow."

Before the frenzied departures, there were nearly 80 American medical students in the country. Few remain, perhaps a half-dozen, American students say.

Bush administration officials say they are restricting travel to Cuba to cut off the flow of hard currency to the island. That, they say, will weaken the socialist government of President Fidel Castro and speed the transition to democracy in Cuba.

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