In February 2010, U.S.Representatives Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced theTravel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), which would restore the right of Americans to travel to Cuba and lifts restrictions on agricultural sales to Cuba. Contact your U.S. Representative urging he or she to vote for passage.
Cuba-U.S. Relations in a Nutshell
The Platt amendment to a U.S. Army Appropriations Bill of 1901 gave the U.S. the right to intervene militarily in Cuban affairs whenever the U.S. decided such intervention was warranted. Cubans were given the choice of accepting the Platt Amendment or remaining under U.S. military occupation indefinitely.
U.S. intervention endowed Cuba with a series of weak, corrupt, and dependent governments. In 1903, the U.S. and Cuba signed the "Cuban-American Treaty," giving the U.S. a perpetual lease of, and absolute control over, Guanta'namo Bay, a blatant example of U.S. gunboat diplomacy.
The current Cuban government considers the U.S. presence in Guanta'namo to be illegal and the "Cuban-American Treaty" to have been procured by the threat of force in violation of international law.
Even a cursory review of Cuba-U.S. relations reveals that the U.S. has much to answer for. After Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz came to power in 1959, overthrowing the U.S.-backed regime of Fulgencio Batista, the U.S. could have embraced Castro and offered him assistance. In April 1959, shortly after taking power, Fidel Castro traveled to the U.S. The Eisenhower administration could have embraced him, offering him economic assistance. But remember this was during the Cold War and Castro smacked of socialism/communism. Eisenhower snubbed him. He met instead with Vice President Nixon for a few hours. No economic assistance was offered. The next year Castro turned to Russia for economic assistance and the rest is history.
On July 31, 2006, following intestinal surgery from an undisclosed digestive illness, Fidel Castro transferred his responsibilities to the First Vice-President, his younger brother Raúl Castro. On February 24, 2008, the Cuban National Assembly elected Raúl Castro to succeed Fidel as the President of Cuba.
It would seem that Raúl is now the undisputed Cuban leader, although the shadow of Fidel will linger over Cuba until his demise and possibly long thereafter. Who will succeed the 78-year old Raúl? And will the U.S. keep its hands off after his death? These are questions for a later time.
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Brief History of U.S. Embargo and Travel Restrictions
In 1961, the Kennedy administration severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, and in 1962-63, the U.S. imposed an economic and trade embargo and travel restrictions following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba by U.S.-backed Cuban exiles.
In 1977, the Carter administration lifted the travel restrictions. In 1982, the Reagan administration re-established the travel restrictions; and in 1989 travelers to Cuba could spend only $100 per day.
In 1992, the Clinton administration, imposed fines on Americans traveling to Cuba from a third country; in 1993, travel was allowed for religious, educational, and human rights groups; in 1994, travel restrictions were tightened in response to a mass exodus from Cuba across the Florida straits; in 1995, travel restrictions were reversed to promote democracy in Cuba; in 1996, all direct flights from U.S. to Cuba stopped because Cuban MiGs had shot down two Brothers to the Rescue planes; in 1998, following Pope John Paul II visit to Cuba direct flights to Cuba were allowed for religious pilgrimages; in 1999, people-to-people trips were increased; and in 2000, travel for tourist activities ended.
In 2001, the Bush administration started enforcing restrictions for "unlicensed" travel; in 2003, travel was no longer limited to humanitarian needs, amount of money that could be carried raised from $300 to $3,000; but in 2004, announced the most stringent travel policies in years limiting Cuban-American travel to once every three years, limited to $300 quarterly that can be sent to Cuba, spending in Cuba limited to $50; and in 2005, religious travel reduced to once a year for groups up to 25.
With a Raúl Castro leadership, a Obama presidency, and perhaps just the passage of time, Obama and Congress seem to be taking a fresh look at the 48-year old embargo and travel restrictions. In 2009, Congress removed the Treasury Department's funding to enforce Cuban-American family travel restrictions.
Obama responded by changing regulations to allow Cuban-Americans to visit relatives once a year instead of once every three years. In April 2009, Obama lifted travel and gift restrictions for Cuban-Americans, allowing them to freely visit Cuba and stay as long as they like, and to send financial help to family members.
The U.S. also shut down a ticker atop the U.S. interests section in Havana, Cuba, that had since 2006 scrolled anti-Cuba slogans in 5-foot-high crimson letters.
The rest of the world wants the embargo ended as seen by the October 2009, United Nations General Assembly overwhelming vote -- for the 18th year in a row -- in favor of condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The vote was 187-3, with 2 abstentions. As a security council member, the U.S. vetoed the resolution. In September of last year, the U.S. extended the embargo.
Why Lift the Travel Restrictions?
I am a believer in the right to travel as a human right. That is, a U.S. citizen has the right to leave the U.S., travel wherever the citizen is welcome, and, with proper documentation, return to the U.S. at any time. The embargo against Cuban has been condemned as an illegal act by the United Nations General Assembly. Then why does the U.S. continue to restrict travel only to Cuba? It can't be because it is a dictatorship or because of human rights violations. If that were the case, Americans could not travel to many countries in the world, such as North Korea, Burma, China, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya, Sudan, etc., all of whom are dictatorships and many of whom have been cited for human rights violations. (Actually, Amnesty International has cited the U.S. for human right violations over the years, including the use of torture, our rendition program, and incarcerating people atGuanta'namo Bay detention center without charges or a trials.)
Passage of H.R. 4645 received a boost when on June 10, 2010, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson released a letter signed by more than 70 pro-democracy Cuban leaders that strongly encourages passage of H.R. 4645:
"When the strongest pro-democracy activists in Cuba say that the current travel and agriculture trade restrictions only support the
Castro regime, you have to ask yourself why we would keep these restrictions in place," Chairman Peterson said. "The statement of
these pro-democracy, anti-Castro dissidents supporting H.R 4645 is a strong indication that people who oppose this bill are not
speaking on behalf of the Cuban people, regardless of what they say. Who are we helping by continuing a policy that has been in
place for 50 years and has yet to change anything?"
I have mixed feelings about Fidel Castro. He was revolutionary who became a dictator for life. But look at the thug he overthrew. Yet, Americans were free to frolic at the nightclubs, casinos and beach resorts during Batista's thuggish regime. But then Batista was in our pocket, whereas Castro is not. In my opinion, direct contact between Americans and Cubans in Cuba will likely promote positive change in both the United States and Cuba.
My wife and I traveled "legally" to Cuba in November 2003 on one of the last so-called "People-to-People" tours, visiting Havana, Viñales, and Santiago de Cuba. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Treasury Department stopped issuing "people-to people" licenses. As the remaining licenses expired -- most in November or December 2003-- so did those trips. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit. With the passage of the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act, we will legally be able to return again. The next step after that is to formally end the U.S. embargo of Cuba.