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
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
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
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
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.
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.
To OFAC: Travel, Trade, Licenses