A NYPost op-ed, linked by NRO Web Briefing for 4/18/07, declares that a school trip to Cuba clearly violated the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and gleefully says that "the teacher and the students now face fines of up to $65,000 apiece." One would think the author of the article would have read the 1992 act, which says, "The Secretary of the Treasury may impose a civil penalty of not more than $50,000 on any person who violates any license, order, rule, or regulation issued under this Act. ... The penalties provided under this subsection may not be imposed for ... clearly defined educational or religious activities, or activities of recognized human rights organizations, that are reasonably limited in frequency, duration, and number of participants." The $50k limit on civil penalties appears to have been raised to $55k, but they are the same for trafficking in Cuban cigars -- an activity the Post implicitly endorses -- as for traveling to Cuba.
I knew there were exceptions to the general prohibition on travel to Cuba, because when I was in college a professor who was an expert in foreign affairs (and co-wrote a book on the Cuban Missile Crisis) urged me to use my press pass as a writer for the student newspaper to take a trip to Cuba. It was not out of misguided leftist sympathy for Castro, as he is decidedly unsympathetic to the regime, but because he thought seeing Cuba was a great opportunity for someone interested in history and politics. The high school teacher and students in question did break the law by traveling without a special OFAC license, but this is about as contemptuous of the law as any other action that is permissible with a license and impermissible without it: selling hot dogs on the corner, driving a gypsy cab, or -- to use a pet cause of the Post -- smoking in a New York indoor public accommodation.
I don't have a strong opinion on the Cuba restrictions either way; if the pro-democracy folks in Cuba are in favor of the sanctions, I'm OK with keeping them, but if those forces actually oppose sanctions and we're just keeping them to satisfy the old refugees, let's drop them.