The U.S. Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing last week on lifting the ban on travel to Cuba, revealing the high discrepancy among congressional members over whether or not restricting Americans from traveling to Cuba will ultimately influence democratic change and enhance human rights under the Castro regime.
Many representatives argued that this policy has failed at influencing democracy within the communist state and has prevented Americans from traveling where they please. Others claimed that by allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, to speak and have frequent contact between citizens will lead to greater openness and, in due course, democracy. These arguments, however, were refuted by the fact that the Castro regime persistently violates the fundamental rights of the Cuban people. Not to mention, most of the revenue made through tourism in Cuba ends up in the hands of the Cuban government.
Undoubtedly, human rights under the Castro regime are extensively undermined and restricted. The recent report published by Human Rights Watch, “New Castro, Same Cuba,” describes in detail the oppressive techniques used by the Castro regime against Cuban citizens, such as political imprisonment for “dangerous,” or antisocialist, behavior, humiliating “acts of repudiation,” beatings and the excessive use of force, to name a few. If pressure from other countries is not insistently put on the Cuban government, human rights violations will continue to weaken and suppress the Cuban community.
Some argue that ultimately the profits made through an increase of tourism brought in by lifting the ban will trickle down to the underground economy. The tourism industry in Cuba, however, is a large component of the country’s state-controlled economy. Therefore, the revenue made through tourism supports the repressive behavior of the Castro regime. According to the U.S. State Department, any American tourist that comes in to contact with a Cuban citizen is subject to clandestine investigation by the General Directorate for State Security (DGSE) of Cuba. Additionally, those Cubans that interact with American tourists will more than likely be victimized by Cuban security elements.
On the whole, opening up tourism to Cuba for the American people will only serve the domineering and tyrannical actions of the Castro regime. In order for human rights and democracy in Cuba to progress, Cuban policy must change—not American policy.
Kristen Grimsland currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm