Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Travel Ban: Don't Ease It, End It

Now is the time to end, not ease, the U.S. ban on tourist travel to Cuba.

The communist-run island nation has been under embargo by the United States since shortly after Fidel Castro, his brother Raul Castro and their guerrilla fighters overthrew the corrupt, unloved Batista dictatorship in 1959. In the mid '90s under U.S. President Bill Clinton, Washington loosened rules on travel to Cuba and on sending money there. However, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 - passed under pressure from ferociously anti-Castro Cuban American leaders in the politically pivotal state of Florida - soon closed that opening.

Today's New York Times - amplified by the Wall Street Journal - reports that the Obama administration plans to return to the moderate policies of the Clinton administration's first term. Citing unnamed congressional aides, the newspapers report that changes - which wouldn't need Congressional approval - could be implemented as early as this Fall.

Mind you, Americans - who pride themselves on living in the freest nation in the world - still won't be able to travel freely to Cuba, as do people from practically every other nation on the planet. But athletic, academic and cultural organizations would have an easier time getting U.S. government licenses to send representatives to Cuba, remittances - presently permitted only to Cuban Americans with relatives living on the island - could be sent by a broader range of people, and the number of U.S. cities permitted to host flights to Havana would be expanded from the three that now have them: Miami, New York and Los Angeles.

Any loosening of the vindictive, ineffective and discriminatory travel ban is welcome, even the half-step represented by this possible change. After nearly 50 years, it should be clear that denying U.S. citizens the cherished right to travel and spend tourist dollars in Cuba has not worked to bring down the undemocratic Castro government but only further impoverished ordinary Cubans who could otherwise share in the benefits of a more-robust tourism industry. Moreover, the paucity of opportunities for Cubans and Americans to meet face to face only reinforces mutual ignorance and national stereotypes.

Some time back, I lived briefly in Canada. Practically every Canadian I met had traveled to Cuba as a casual tourist, as many Canadians do now. Most people around the world are free to do the same. Americans still don't have that right.

It's well past time they did. And it's time the embittered leaders of a small but influential minority are no longer given veto power over an important piece of U.S. foreign policy. President Obama: Don't merely ease this long-standing, ill-advised travel ban - end it.

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