Cuba
Selected Press Coverage on OFAC and the Right to Travel to Cuba

 
   
 

It's time to lift travel ban to Cuba

The Boston Globe
By William D. Delahunt and Sally Grooms Cowal
Dec 22, 2001

TEN YEARS in prison. A $250,000 criminal fine. A $50,000 civil penalty. The punishment for bank robbers? Ax murderers? Al Capone? John Gotti? No. These are the federal sanctions for an American citizen exercising his or her constitutional right to travel by visiting Cuba without a so-called ''license.''

Who are these offenders? Business leaders and birdwatchers. Ballplayers and musicians. Hemingway aficionados and ecotourists. You expect this kind of thing from the Cuban government, not the United States. We've erected our own Berlin Wall, preventing free travel of our own citizens. And we've labored for 40 years to maintain it. To paraphrase President Reagan, it's time to tear down that wall.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives agrees, voting by a 54-vote margin recently to forbid enforcement of this policy during the next fiscal year. According to the latest polls, this echoes the views of two-thirds of all Americans and a majority of Florida Cuban-Americans. Of course, in time of war or when facing genuine threats to our national security, restrictions on travel can be reasonable.

Today, the only other nations our government prohibits Americans from visiting are Libya and Iraq. But Cuba is not a threat, to us or to anyone. It's safe to say that Cuban invasion forces will not be landing on our shores anytime soon. A 1998 report by the US Department of Defense concluded that Cuba poses no national security threat, and that its military capabilities are entirely defensive and residual.

At the height of the Cold War, we faced a real threat from the Soviet Union, armed with thousands of nuclear missiles, and from Warsaw Pact armies far outnumbering NATO forces. But even then, American citizens did not need licenses to travel to the ''Evil Empire.'' All they needed was a passport. For 40 years, our preoccupation with Fidel Castro has ''justified'' the undermining of our own constitutional freedom.

If our goal is to promote democracy in Cuba, this policy is not working. It's long past time for a new approach. Going back to the days of the Spanish empire, the Cuban people have never experienced freedom and self-determination. Before Castro was a tin-horn dictator named Fulgencio Batista.

Before him, a half-century of US economic dominance and military intervention made Cuba's ''independence'' merely a fiction. Both Cubans and Americans would benefit from a deeper political discourse. Ending the travel ban would help create links to the generation of Cuban leaders that will succeed Castro. That way, when their time comes, Cuba will be prepared for democracy.

Travel ban proponents argue that US tourist revenue would buttress the Castro regime. But if they were sincere, they would also oppose exemptions allowing Cuban-Americans to send $1,200 a year to relatives in Cuba. This money not only supports Cuba's economy, but also creates two classes of Cubans - those with US benefactors, and those without.

Then there's the exemption entitling US citizens with relatives in Cuba to a ''general license'' to travel. It is virtually unenforced, and serves to create two classes of Americans - those who can travel more freely and those who cannot. Regrettably, some are still preoccupied with punishing Castro. On July 13, President Bush announced his intention to crack down on unauthorized travel to Cuba.

Several of his appointments to key positions in Latin American policy have a distinctly Cold War obsession with Cuba. But the old policy hasn't worked, and the overwhelming House vote to prohibit enforcement of the travel ban reflects the broad public frustration with these restrictions.

A century ago, during the Spanish-Amerian War, the United States invaded Cuba. It's now time for a new invasion - with academics, missionaries, investors, human rights activists, and tourists. Let the college kids of spring break be in the vanguard of that invasion. There are no more effective ambassadors of our values and aspirations - in Cuba or anywhere else around the globe - than ordinary Americans. Restricting travel by Americans to Cuba undermines our own constitutional rights and does nothing to help the Cuban people.

If we tear down that wall, we can enhance the cultural, political, and commercial opportunities that are the historical backbone to our own democracy - and the prospects for democratic change in Cuba.

William D. Delahunt, US representative for the 10th Congressional District, serves on the House International Relations Committee. Sally Grooms Cowal, former US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, is president of the Cuba Policy Foundation.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 12/22/2001.

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