Four members of the U.S. Senate on March 31 introduced S. 428S, “The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.” A similar measure will follow in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, as legislation goes, is quite simple: it forbids the President to “regulate or prohibit, directly or indirectly, travel to or from Cuba by United States citizens or legal residents,” and repeals all previous travel restrictions.
Ultimately most arguments for lifting the travel ban [and the trade embargo which is clearly the real target of many in Congress] blame the U.S. for the pesky persistence of communism in Cuba. They assume that 1) since restrictions have failed to change Cuba in 50 years, being nice will; 2) lifting prohibitions will deprive the Castro regime of its justification for repression, 3] waves of free spending U.S. visitors will open doors for real democratic change, 4] abundant commercial opportunities will emerge, and 5] all of Latin America will like us more once we quit hectoring Cuba for its totalitarian practices.
The Senate and House bills go into the hopper before the Obama Administration has completed its review of Cuba policy or articulated its Cuba strategy based on some presumptive effort for reciprocity and democratic transformation in Cuba.
Unlike previous measures dropping curbs on travel and remittances by Cuban-American in the 2009 Omnibus Budget bill, S. 428 and its House counterpart will require a debate and a Senate and House vote.
Outside the growing “Fidel-has-won” crowd stands, among others, Senator Robert Menendez, (D-NJ). The Senator recently observed, “Over the years, millions of Europeans, Canadians, Mexicans, South and Central Americans, among others, have visited Cuba, invested in Cuba, spent billions of dollars, signed trade agreements and engaged politically. And what has been the result of all of that money and all of that engagement? The regime has not opened up; on the contrary, it has used resources to become more oppressive.”
One needs to recall a few points as the debate warms up. 1] the absence of change in Cuba is the result of the Castro dictatorship, not the fault of the U.S.; 2] the axis of Castro’s dictatorship has and remains virulent anti-Americanism; 3] free-spending Europeans and Canadians have failed to change Cuba’s repressive policies; 4] the communist economic model is broken and violently fears a free market; 5] by embracing Cuba as they do, without democratic change or greater freedoms, regional leaders have tarnished their commitments to democracy as signatories to the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
So Senator Menendez further says: “Let’s duke it out …let’s have our debate… Let’s know who’s for democracy and human rights and who wants to sell their stuff no matter how many people are in prison…”
The fighting will be interesting and hopefully it is the voiceless Cuban people – not the politicians, lobbying groups, and, certainly not, the Castro brothers – who win in end.