Thoughts on Cuban Travel Policy
Last week, Brenda Farrington of the AP wrote a quick piece on the wire about President Barack Obama’s plan to loosen Cuban travel policy to allow students and church groups to go to the communist country. This is another good step as we attempt to lower the Palm Curtain. According to the White House statements and Farrington’s reportage, students seeking scholastic credit and churches traveling for religious purposes will be able to go to Cuba. Quoting Farrington, “The plan will also let any American send as much as $500 every three months to Cuban citizens who are not part of the Castro administration and are not members of the Communist Party.” Additionally, more airports will be permitted to run charter services to Cuba. Currently only airports in Miami, Los Angeles and New York City offer authorized charters to Cuba. According to the new statutes, any international airport with proper customs and immigration facilities can run charters from that airport as long as they are working with licensed agents and so on.
President Obama has ordered these changes and they don’t require any other branch of US Government to sign off. In another week, this is the new rule of the road. Naysayers think this won’t change the lives of average Cubans, but I think that’s baloney. The effects of social interaction between people of the world even one person at a time ALWAYS promotes change and progress. Call it an overly rose-tinted world view, but I have lived it and seen it happen. And in more than one country.
Farrington quotes U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair as saying that, “Loosening these regulations will not help foster a pro-democracy environment in Cuba. These changes will not aid in ushering in respect for human rights. And they certainly will not help the Cuban people free themselves from the tyranny that engulfs them. These changes undermine U.S. foreign policy and security objectives and will bring economic benefits to the Cuban regime.”
Wow! Slow down Madame Chairperson! I get it, you need to sound tough, we know you need to get re-elected and we know this is a hot button issue for your constituency back home in your district but really…interaction with free peoples of the world always helps foster pro democracy movements. I spent time in Cuba last year shooting a Bizarre World episode and let me tell you, democracy and the current political situation in Cuba was a nightly dinnertime conversation with our Cuban friends in every city we visited. Their curiosity about us was insatiable, their frank and candid description of their lives was moving and illuminating. I had no idea about the depth and breadth of the amazing education and medical systems in Cuba, much in the same way I was appalled at the lack of access to fresh foods, even products like milk or mangoes, that the average Cuban has or more aptly put, doesn’t have. The free exchange of viewpoints encouraged by more travel to hotspots like Cuba can only bring about change for the better. The more Americans who go to Cuba, well, the greater the level of understanding there will be and the faster we will see a free democratic Cuba.
So far, decades of isolation hasn’t helped, has it Congresswoman? I can’t for the life of me figure out on any level how just one piece of this legislation, the new increased cap on funds allowed to be sent for example, wont vastly improve the average Cuban citizens living standards and freedom from their own government’s archaic and sometimes unfathomably silly rules and regulations about fishing or food production. Right now Cuban citizens aren’t even allowed on boats, which is why so many risk life and limb float fishing on Styrofoam blocks, and farmers regularly “suicide” their cows on train tracks to avoid police enforcing meat quotas.
Bringing about reforms that will make life better for the average Cuban citizen is something that the Cuban government needs to do. It’s not our country, but what we can do (and should do) at every opportunity is practice attraction to our way of life, and advocate for change from the ground up in that country by a regular free exchange of ideas. Lifting travel restrictions is a great idea, and I applaud President Obama. I hope in the coming months he removes all restrictions for Americans so more of our citizens can visit this beautiful island nation and see what goes on there for themselves.