Travel Makes No Difference
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.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.
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?
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.