President Obama has finally decided to replace President Bush’s regulations governing American travel to Cuba, and he has a better idea: fewer restrictions, simpler regulations, and more citizen contact – but no tourism. (See details in the post below.)
My preference is for Americans to have the same freedom to travel to Cuba as they do to every other more-or-less imperfect country on the globe.
We don’t get that with President Obama’s action today, and many parts of his Cuba policy remain unchanged from those of President Bush, and counterproductive. But this is a big improvement, and it builds on the Administration’s complete removal of restrictions on Cuban-American travel and its easing of gift parcel rules.
The increase in contact between Americans and Cubans will expand the flow of information and ideas, and it will increase the income of Cubans in the country’s expanding private sector. It will expand American institutions’ contacts with Cuban counterparts – churches, universities, professional associations, and more. It is only common sense that American influence in Cuba will expand if we open doors rather than build barriers to citizen contact.
As a matter of policy, it is a big shift from the Bush approach, which limited citizen contact and emphasized government initiatives, government funding, and government programs that are often riddled with problems (see Sixto, Felipe and Gross, Alan).
The initiative here is on the part of private citizens and institutions acting on their own account, not following U.S. government instructions.
I applaud President Obama’s action. Here’s hoping that he continues to repair a policy that serves us particularly badly at a time of real change in Cuba.