This video of Senator Marco Rubio’s questions to Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela is interesting on several levels – the first being that it shows once again that there is no conservative principle that does not fly out the window where Cuba is concerned.
Senator Rubio’s view of the national government is so expansive that he thinks it should be in the business of assuring visitors to Cuba that “nothing bad will happen to them.” Here he presses the State Department:
“Is the Department of State prepared to assure American citizens that if they go to Cuba they will be able to talk to whoever they want, do whatever they want – within the civil law I mean, obviously you can’t violate civil law – but they will be able to talk to anybody they want including someone like Sara Fonseca, they will be able to go there and actually tell people about the outside world, talk to dissidents and that they will not get in trouble? Are we prepared to assure people that if they travel to Cuba nothing bad will happen to them?”
The idea, I guess, is that our government should stop Americans from traveling to countries where visitors do not have complete freedom to do as they please – rather than allow American travelers to make that decision for themselves.
Nanny state, anyone?
Second, he seems to draw a distinction between Cuban laws that visitors should observe without question – “the civil law,” as he puts it – and others that they should not. Which begs the question: If other countries have laws barring unauthorized activity in their territory on behalf of foreign governments, on which side of the line would those laws lie?
Third, he uses Alan Gross’ predicament to argue against expanded travel to Cuba. He starts by asking whether the State Department will issue travel warnings for Cuba.
It turns out that the State Department does provide travel advice for those who go to Cuba. This page from the State Department’s website contains tips on crime and personal security and lots of other information. There’s also a less-than-crystal-clear warning – not for the average traveler, but for those working on U.S. government programs:
“Cuba’s Law of Protection of National Independence and the Cuban Economy contains a series of measures intended to discourage some types of contact between foreign nationals and Cuban citizens to prevent and discourage opposition to the Cuban Government.”
That is a reference to a Cuban law against distribution of resources “that come from the United States government, its agencies, subordinates, representatives, functionaries, or private entities” pursuant to the Helms-Burton law, which is where the funds for Mr. Gross’ program are authorized.
As early as 2003, public USAID documents warned “Cuban citizens and Cuban NGOs as well as U.S. individuals and organizations participating in the program” that they are at risk because of that Cuban law.
On top of that, I’m told by a U.S. official that USAID contracts themselves fully incorporate this warning.
The State Department page also has this note:
“Although Cuba issues visas upon arrival to American citizens, all travelers to Cuba, including religious workers, should have the appropriate type of visa and, if required, specific authorization from Cuban authorities.”
So there is a “travel warning” after all.
But what Senator Rubio appears to be doing is to try to make Alan Gross appear to be a regular American traveling in a private capacity, when in fact he was working for the U.S. government.
If you ignore that distinction, then you can argue that President Obama has acted recklessly in permitting more non-tourist travel, as if Americans who travel on their own account are being placed in predictable danger by his new policy.
All of this adds up to another reason for the Senator to meet his own constituents and other Americans right at his home town airport, Concourse G, any day of the week. Plenty of Americans help churches in Cuba without incident. They bring resources to churches, family, and friends, including money and appliances and laptops. They understand the risks and decide on their own what to do.
If you dig into this enough, it is not travel by private Americans that seems reckless, but rather the program that sent Alan Gross to Cuba.