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

  (ed note: the letters from OFAC discussed in this article probably just threatened fines, not levied fines.)

Published Tuesday, August 7, 2001


Cuba travel on collision course

How long can a law intended to satisfy an influential but minuscule constituency stand against the views and rights of the majority?

The ban on travel to Cuba, currently under attack in Congress, provides an excellent test. In a bow to Cuban-American hard-liners whose votes helped the president win Florida, President Bush has vowed to crack down on those who visit Cuba illegally ``to the fullest extent with a view toward preventing unlicensed and excessive travel.''

That's a promise Bush is keeping. Under Bush, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces travel restrictions, is issuing letters informing Cuba travelers they have been fined ($7,500 is the typical fine) at more than 12 times the rate it did during Bill Clinton's last year in office.

What purpose does the travel ban and strict enforcement serve, and who supports the policy? It serves little purpose and has virtually no support. It's a pointless, unpopular restriction on the right of Americans. It is in place to please a tiny and diminishing constituency.


The travel ban, which exempts researchers, journalists, Cuban Americans making a single yearly visit to family and a few other categories of travelers, is meant to deny Cuba tourist dollars. That denial is supposed to promote democratic change on the island. In fact, one thing is clear after 40 years of embargo: The policy of economic strangulation, of which the travel ban is a key component, has done nothing but consolidate a siege mentality in Cuba that isn't conducive to a democratic society.

On the other hand, tourists provide the majority of Cubans who never have traveled outside the island a window on the world and opportunities for earning badly needed money. For Cuban Americans, limited to one legal visit a year, free travel would mean staying in closer touch with family and roots, and never again having to face the cruel choice of breaking the law or forgoing a last visit with a dying parent or relative.

The ban isn't only bad policy, it's a policy with shockingly little support. Even the Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently voted against the ban by a comfortable 240-186. A poll this spring by the Cuba Policy Foundation, an anti-embargo group, found that 66 percent of the public believes Americans should be allowed to travel to Cuba.


That's consistent with an even more-revealing poll conducted by FIU in 2000. The poll found 63 percent of Americans nationally and 75 percent of Americans of other than Cuban descent in Miami-Dade favor unrestricted travel. The real surprise? A majority of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade (52.8 percent) also favor unrestricted travel.

So, on whose behalf is the travel ban so zealously enforced? Not U.S.-born Cuban Americans -- the majority of second-generation Cubans favor free travel. Not Cubans who arrived during the 1980 Mariel boatlift or in the 1990s. Recent arrivals have close relatives in Cuba, and the majority of them favor unrestricted travel.

It turns out the only group among which there is majority support for the travel ban is Cubans who arrived in the United States before 1975. This minority-within-a-minority of older exiles have few close relatives in Cuba but much political clout here.

By recognizing the right of Americans to travel freely to Cuba, the Bush administration would take a first step toward a rational U.S. policy -- at the same time doing the will of the American people, including the emerging Cuban-American majority.

For the Cuban American National Foundation, which lately seems to be reinventing itself, dropping its opposition to the travel ban would be a giant step in persuading skeptics that it really is separating itself from the dwindling hard-line minority and adopting not just a new face but also a new policy.

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To OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses and Legislation


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