Is the Cuban-American curtain poised to raise?

Just last month and exactly one year after Scott wrote that it might be possible for U.S. vagabonds to visit Cuba soon, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) made the following statement in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee; [edited]

Americans have the right to travel to Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, which seeks a nuclear weapons capability in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. We can go to North Korea, which threatens to destabilize East Asia with its nuclear weapons program. And even during the darkest days of the Cold War, our citizens could visit the Soviet Union. Yet the vast majority of Americans are still prohibited by law from travelling to Cuba. It is the only country in the world where our people are not allowed to go.

But let’s face it. By any objective measure, the nearly fifty-year-old travel ban simply hasn’t worked. The travel ban has prevented contact between Cubans and ordinary Americans, who serve as ambassadors for the democratic values we hold dear. Such contact would help break Havana’s chokehold on information about the outside world. At the end of the day, the importance of depriving the Castro regime of some additional financial resources is far outweighed by our interest in accelerating the spread of democratic ideas and supporting the development of a healthy civil society in Cuba.

Lifting the travel ban will benefit both U.S. and Cuban citizens. We need to let Americans be beacons of hope; they will bring freedom with them. Let thousands of U.S. visitors chip away at the Castro information monopoly with thousands of small cuts. Let the residents of 19 US cities actually travel to their sister cities in Cuba. Let Americans and Cubans openly discuss human rights and market-based economics and Hollywood movies on streets, beaches and in cafés throughout Cuba – and take the U.S. government out of the business of deciding what should be discussed and which Americans should do the talking.

The freedom to travel is an important thread running through American history – from the settlement of the West, to the road trips inspired by author Jack Kerouac, to the exploration of outer space. The Cuba travel ban is squarely at odds with this uniquely American value, and constitutes a disturbing infringement on the right of our citizens to freedom of speech, association, and to travel.

In April, President Obama made it possible for Cuban-Americans to visit their families. In June, Cuba was re-admitted membership to the Organization of American States after being suspended since 1962. The United Nations General Assembly has condemned the embargo as a violation of international law for the last 18 years.

It would seem that the stone of economic sanctions that has been gathering moss for half a century may be starting to budge. Could we see el bloqueo lifted within the next year on its 50th anniversary?

The purist in me would love to see Cuba beforehand, to see what has been effectively a time capsule, with pre-1960s cars roaming the streets and an absence of McDonalds and Starbucks on every corner. However, the humanitarian in me has seen what the flow of information and trade have done for closed countries like China, slowly chipping away at their walls of tight control. Following on last week’s post about Ethical Travel, Cuba won’t be on the top-10 list for the forseeable future, but the concept of “promoting mindful travel, and building an economy in which local communities reap the benefits of tourist revenue” is sound, and something that modern travelers can rise to the challenge.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | December 17, 2009
Category: General

4 Responses to “Is the Cuban-American curtain poised to raise?”

  1. Says:

    That’s a great point about Americans traveling to Iran and North Korea. Americans can freely travel to China, Russia, and other countries that have “questionable” ways. It doesn’t make sense that we’re not allowed to travel to Cuba. The U.S. and Cuba are like two friends who had an argument or disagreement. One thinks they’ll get the other back by punishing the their friend. In the end, you hurt yourself.

  2. brian Says:

    As someone who lived in Miami for a while, I doubt the curtain will rise. Moreover, one of the main reasons given: the betterment of Cuba’s people, has been proven false. It’s not like other nations haven’t been visiting Cuba en masse for quite some time and poured billions into the island’s economy. Are the Cuban people suddenly more free because Canadians learn to salsa in Havana? Are dissents suddenly free from their cages because Germans crowd the beaches in ridiculous bathing suits? So far the answer is no.

  3. brian Says:

    I meant dissidents, by the way.