[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Travel Makes No Difference

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Travel Makes No Difference

Quite a bit of news the past few days regarding U.S. policy towards Cuba: presidential candidates meeting with Cuban-Americans in Miami, op-eds in the Miami Herald and yesterday's decision by President Bush to authorize the sending of cellphones to Cubans on the island.

A central theme of this involves the relaxation or total elimination travel restrictions to Cuba. Personally, I don't see the point in severely restricting travel, particularly the once every three year policy we have now. I do, however, understand the valid reasons for restricting travel (less money in the hands of the regime, highly questionable effectiveness of "increased person-to-person contact, among others).

Michael Putney, in his editorial yesterday for the Herald, advocates "straight talk" regarding Cuba, and insinuates that allowing Cuban-Americans to travel to Cuba would "put pressure" on the regime and COULD lead to political reforms.
The travel ban on Americans is also largely a fiction. Thousands travel to Cuba every year through third countries. U.S. visitors get a paper visa that they surrender upon leaving; their passports aren't stamped in Havana. The U.S. Treasury Department is more vigilant, but it's still easy to go to Cuba.

Yes, I know the Cuban military runs the tourism industry and makes a nice profit on their hotels and restaurants. It's also true that tourists from Western Europe and other democracies have been visiting Cuba for years without producing any large-scale political or social change. But wouldn't an influx of American visitors, including Cuban Americans, put tremendeous pressure on the Raúl Castro government to open the door wider to market reforms, which could possibly lead to political reforms? That's the U.S. strategy with China; why not Cuba?

That's the part of the reasoning I don't understand. Putney accurately states how the lax enforcement of said regulations already allows Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba either through third countries or through humanitarian groups which are exempt. Not to mention the hoards of tourists who visit Cuba from other countries. If increased person-to-person contact is supposed to bring real political change, then why hasn't it happened yet? Simple concept, but one that pro-travel proponents can't seem to answer without making excuses. You see, the strict travel restrictions haven't always been in place, yet what was the end result of the increased travel "back in the day"? Opinions are opinions, and facts are facts.

Another fact: Cubans don't need daily visits from family in Miami to know of their situation. This explains the record number of Cubans wanting to leave the island.

Like I said above, I would be in favor of a relaxation of the travel restrictions, even if it means that the regime pockets more dough. Seeing a close relative for the last time is something that we should place as a higher priority than preventing the castros from acquiring wealth that they will acquire through other means anyway. But I'm not under the illusion that increased travel by Cuban-Americans would directly or even indirectly lead to political change. Believing that would be naive thinking on my part. Unfortunately, many anti-hard-liners would rather take a position which sits at polar opposite to the "traditional" exile thinking than to honestly consider its impacts (or lack thereof). To these folks, it's easier to demonize than to rationalize.

Most hard-liners and non-hard-liners would likely agree that real change in Cuba has to come from the inside. So then, why the insistence that outsiders from Miami or elsewhere visiting relatives in Cuba will lead to raul and his minions to change their minds? They can visit all they want as far as I'm concerned, but let's not kid ourselves either.


Blogger Henry Louis Gomez said...


You nailed it. There's no magic bullet. I disagree with one thing though. The regime could be forced to change its policies with pressure from OUTSIDE of Cuba but it would have to be coming from more countries than just the U.S.

If not for the world's involvement in the case of South Africa then there would probably still be apartheid there today.

Just because other countries won't join us in trying to pressure the regime doesn't mean we should join them in accommodating the regime.

The regime will change its policies when it feels forced to, either through inside pressure or outside pressure or both. It will not change based on a newfound willingness to cooperate born out of tourist revenue. Nor will they abandon their Marxist economic model as long as they can continue to sucker foreign countries into investing in it.

1:12 PM, May 22, 2008  
Blogger Mambi_Watch said...


I've read your post carefully and get the feeling that you are on the fence with this issue.

You say that you don't "see the point in severely restricting travel" for Cuban families, but neither do you see the point in lifting those restrictions. In the end you seem to weigh your decision on whether each alternative "would directly or even indirectly lead to political change" in Cuba.

But, Putney NEVER argued that lifting any travel restrictions would bring about political change in Cuba. Review what you quoted:

"an influx of American visitors, including Cuban Americans [would] put tremendous pressure on the Raúl Castro government to open the door wider to MARKET REFORMS, which COULD POSSIBLY lead to political reforms."

First off, Putney's comments are in the form of a question, basically asking why don't we have the same policy with Cuba as with China to bring about MARKET reforms.

Second, Putney believes that unrestricted travel to Cuba WOULD pressure the Cuban government to make MARKET reforms, NOT political ones. (There are past examples in Cuba that show that market reforms can be pressured through its tourism sector.)

Third, Putney makes clear that unrestricted travel to Cuba is NOT the "magic bullet" to bring political reform to Cuba, saying instead that it "COULD POSSIBLY" lead to it. He holds hope, but never says confidently that it WOULD.

In other words, you posted on something Putney said "could possibly" happen, and strangely ignored the important argument he raised with his op-ed:

"... we're ready for some straight talk on Cuba, not the
SAME OLD TIRED clichés... McCain and Obama need to understand that the Cuban community here is undergoing a SEA CHANGE..."

That's a big statement coming from Putney whose been in the local political scene for a long time.

Anyway, as you continue to weigh the arguments for/against travel to Cuba, notice that there is a growing number of Cuban families who are opposed to the 2004 travel restrictions, some organized locally under Ramon Saul Sanchez's Democracy Movement, some in other States with the support of the ACLU as recently reported in the Herald.

And, then there's the recent recommendations by Martha Beatriz Roque telling Pres. Bush directly (in the last video conference) that he should lift the some of the travel restrictions.

Does Roque believe that lifting those restrictions would be the "magic bullet" to bring POLITICAL change in Cuba? Obviously not, but I don't think anyone really believes that.

1:22 PM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger Mambi_Watch said...

Here's a link that reports on Martha Beatriz Roque's recommendations to Pres. Bush on lifting the travel (and remittance) restrictions:


1:29 PM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger Fantomas said...

"Curioso, yo creo que no saben como procesar el asunto. yo, que no votaría por los Demócratas, creo que el discurso de Obama hoy es un gigantesco paso de avance en la comprensión política del problema cubano. Ojalá que alguien lo diga."

Ernesto B


I responded your comment at babalu but i was censored by the blog editor

sorry you missed it

3:50 PM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger Fantomas said...


6:09 PM, May 23, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

Mambi Watch,

I don't think my views could have been expressed any clearer here. I think you're the one that's always looking to shove your point across to whomever may be listening. Yes, Putney threw some qualifiers in there, which was acknowledged in the post, BTW, but he brings it up only because he thinks it COULD happen, not because it COULD NOT. Right?

I would like for you to argue my central point which is that travel by Cuban-Americans has not changed the political scene in Cuba nor will it ever, without many other things in place that are much more important. Trying to nitpick and critique the meaning and implication of every word I write may be your MO, but it totally misses the point of the argument that what we need is POLITICAL change, and travel won't do squat to change that.

How about THAT for a real honest "sea change"?

9:31 AM, May 25, 2008  
Blogger Robert said...

One more thing, MW, yes there are MANY people in Miami and elsewhere who think that increased travel is the magic bullet. Don't be so naive or argumentative just because it's me or any other disgusting hard-liner saying this.

9:34 AM, May 25, 2008  

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