Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Turning Back Time: President Obama Returns Cuba Travel Regulations to Where They Were Under Clinton

(Photo by Fabio Dilupo)
Its a start.

On Friday, with the long holiday weekend looming, the Obama Administration quietly announced that it would be allowing more travel by U.S. citizens to Cuba. Under the new regulations church, cultural and educational groups will have the right to travel to the neighboring island legally. In addition, all international airports in the US are now allowed to accept planes from Cuba, a move that will make it easier logistically to get from one country to the other.

The rules will, in effect, move us back to where we were when Clinton was President. As I said earlier, its a start (or a restart, in this case).

Under Clinton, with a "People-to-People" visa in hand, thousands of Americans traveled to Cuba with a diverse array of groups ranging from the Nantucket Preservation Society to Amherst College to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. They did so to go birding, attend jazz fests, take architectural pilgrimages, learn about healthcare in Cuba, you name it. My father visited twice in that period as a journalist; it wasn't hard to do.

So more people will be going.  But all this begs the question: why can't we all easily go? Why is our right as citizens to travel freely still being denied?

The vast majority of Americans are in favor of ending the ban and, in recent polls, nearly 70% of Cuban Americans are now in favor of its repeal, as well. They understand, rightly, I think, that the ban never did what it was intended to do: weaken Castro. His regime has outlasted 10 American presidencies at this point.

Moreover, the ban has hurt our international standing. In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 17th time (in as many years) to condemn our long-standing embargo of the island. The vote passed by 185 to 3.

Unfortunately, the ban cannot be lifted by executive order. It needs an act of congress.

Which is where we all come in. Though the Congress of the US is now woefully divided, they need to understand that the American people are no longer divided on this issue. We want to have the freedom to travel where we please. We understand that ending the embargo will help our economy as it will give us another close neighbor to which we can export our goods. And we're tired of supporting a policy that failed a long time ago, and makes us look like fools and bullies in the eyes of our allies (all of which normalized relations with Cuba long ago).

Please, do your part. Write to your representatives and let them know that you want to end this misguided embargo.

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