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Minnesota college pays a $9,000 fine for Cuba travel

MINNEAPOLIS — Augsburg College has paid $9,000 to settle allegations by the federal government that it violated the Cuban embargo by arranging trips for small groups of students and others.

The settlement disclosed this week arises from an allegation by an arm of the Treasury Department that the Minneapolis liberal arts college wasn't licensed properly for arranging travel to Cuba that included non-Augsburg students and other adults.

But Augsburg was told years ago by the department that it didn't need the travel service provider license that it lacked, according to Regina McGoff, assistant director of the college's Center for Global Education. Instead, it held an academic license. However, 2004 changes in requirements for such a license have forced the center to drop Cuban travel, she said.

The department originally proposed that Augsburg pay a $36,000 fine, or $1,000 for each of 36 people on four trips between 2000 and 2004. The school has sponsored an estimated 30 trips to Cuba dating to 1998. A lawyer representing the school negotiated the lower civil fine.

McGoff said the visits lasted one to three weeks and focused on meeting people from various sectors, including agricultural co-ops, health-care workers, educators, artists and musicians, economists and government officials.

The government tightened embargo travel rules in 2004 to limit study in Cuba to programs of at least 10 weeks and including only that school's students.

The rule changes are being challenged nationally by a coalition involving about 450 academics, who argue that the changes are an infringement on academic freedom.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba dates to 1963, and is intended to isolate the Communist government economically and deprive it of U.S. dollars, according to the department.