Wednesday, January 6, 2010


When the United States unveiled a list of 14 countries whose citizens are due for extra screening in U.S. airports, the list was dominated by countries that have produced both actual and wanna-be terrorists: your Saudi Arabias, your Yemens, your Irans.

Also on the list in the wake of the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing near Detroit: Cuba.


This makes no sense, except as a relic of Cold War politics - and, of course, as a bow to the politically powerful South Florida Cuban American community, seen as a swing vote in U.S. elections by vote-conscious politicans, Barack Obama not excepted.

Cuba has never attacked the United States. The United States has, however, attacked Cuba. I would suggest that citizens of the U.S. could be put on a list for extra screening when they enter Cuba, except that the U.S. forbids most of its citizens from going to Cuba in the first place. This long-standing travel ban has effectively squelched what could be a thriving tourism trade. Journalists can visit Cuba, and a few other Americans manage to travel there through Mexico or Canada, but far more would go if they could do it legally.

Here's a notation from History 101: In 1961, the U.S. armed and equipped a small army of far-right Cuban exiles and turned them loose inside Cuba, where they were soundly defeated by the heavily armed far-left government of Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs. Since then, there have been a number of botched attempts by U.S. interests to assassinate Castro.

The Cuba of Fidel - and now, Raul - Castro is not without major faults. The Cuban government does not tolerate dissent and uses the U.S. as a handy whipping boy whenever anything goes wrong economically or politically in Cuba, which it often does. Most seriously from an internationalist perspective, Cuba harbored Soviet missiles in the early 1960s, nearly triggering a nuclear war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. This was one of the first and sternest foreign-policy tests for a young U.S. president called John F. Kennedy. In the 1960s and '70s, Cuban adventurism saw Havana supporting insurrections in Latin America and Africa. Cuba has dispatched spies to the U.S. to keep tabs on its Cuban American foes, too, but this is standard-issue spycraft, as practiced by many countries. It is not terrorism.

Successive U.S. presidents - ever mindful of their anti-communist cred and that influential Cuban American voting bloc - have treated Cuba harshly, beaming propagandistic TV and radio broadcasts to the island, choking remittances from Cubans living in the U.S. to their needy relatives in Cuba, maintaining an increasingly anachronistic trade embargo on most commerce and investment on the island - and limiting the freedom of U.S. citizens to travel there. In effect, that also limits the right of U.S. citizens to see the realities of the world for themselves, and to think for themselves. The insensibly villified Bill Clinton tried to loosen trade and travel restrictions in his second term in the White House, but when Cuban fighter jets shot down planes taken by Cuban exiles into Cuban airspace, even half-measures became politically untenable.

It is in this light that the inclusion of Cuba on this new screening list must be viewed. It's sad and it's absurd. But rigid politics, as ever, are shaping security policies and the world of travel.

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