Lifting the Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba
Published: July 13, 2010
To the Editor:
In his July 9 letter, James C. Cason, a former chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, insists that allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba will not in any way encourage greater openness on the island. I, too, was a chief of the United States Interests Section (1979-82), and have continued to work on and travel to Cuba for many years after that, and I would strongly disagree with Mr. Cason.
Letting Americans travel freely to Cuba will not by some magical gesture bring democracy to Cuba, but it simply stands to reason that the more Americans who are there, the greater impact they can have. We are not talking only of tourists, after all, but of many with an interest in various aspects of Cuban life - sports, theater, history, the arts and many others. The cumulative impact of such contacts can be considerable.
And we now have that letter from more than 70 Cuban dissidents, including some of the more prominent ones, calling on the United States Congress to lift travel controls so that Americans can travel freely to Cuba. They believe that will help bring about change. I'll go with them rather than Mr. Cason.
Mr. Cason also mentions the 52 prisoners the Cuban government now says it will release and urges that the United States not lift travel controls until all political prisoners have been freed. But I would note that that will not help in any way to bring about their freedom. The 52 are being freed because the Spanish government and the Catholic Church entered into a dialogue with the Cuban government to bring that about. If they had followed the American pattern of refusing to engage, there would be no prisoner release at all.
The United States should indeed lift travel controls and should begin a meaningful dialogue with the Cuban government, which it has not yet done. Its approach has so far been a disappointment and has achieved little. Let us hope for something more imaginative - and effective.
Wayne S. Smith
Center for International Policy
Washington, July 9, 2010
Cason's original letter:
Should We Ease Curbs on Travel to Cuba?
Published: July 09, 2010
To the Editor:
Re "House Panel Votes to Ease Cuba Travel Restrictions" (news article, July 1):
Representative Collin C. Peterson, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, says American travel to Cuba would "show the Cuban people how great democracy can be." But that is not the point.
Cubans know what democracy is. But under totalitarianism, people do not have the means to realize their dreams: almost two million Cuban exiles have fled to democracies. Despite Cuban government censorship, they have learned about democracy from their relatives in exile and American pro-democracy programs.
As a former chief of the American mission in Cuba, and a retired career Foreign Service officer who traveled extensively throughout the island, I'd like to point out that the Cuban security forces control the tourist industry, that most Americans don't speak Spanish well enough to have any meaningful conversation about democracy, and that most Cubans speak only rudimentary English.
Supporters of the bill say that travel will benefit the regime, but that it will benefit the people more. But the security apparatus keeps ordinary Cubans away from tourists while keeping the tourist dollars, prohibiting even hotel employees from meeting with tourists outside the hotels.
There is no trickle-down of tourist dollars, except to the ruling class. Most foodstuffs needed for tourists are produced abroad, not by Cubans. Unlike places like Mexico and Jamaica, few Cuban handicrafts are available, and Cubans who dare to produce items outside of government strictures are persecuted.
I urge Representative Peterson to ask Havana to release all 200 political prisoners, not just the 52 Cuba has said it will release (news article, July 8), and allow them to stay in Cuba if they wish, before we even consider releasing millions of tourist dollars into Cuban government coffers.
And let's not forget Allan Gross, in Cuban prisons since December 2009 for talking about democracy to the Cubans.
James C. Cason
Coral Gables, Fla., July 8, 2010
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