Thursday, April 2, 2009

The travel debate: Cuban voices

The debate over the travel ban is getting rolling with the introduction of legislation to end it in the House and Senate. A House press conference will showcase the legislation today, with 121 cosponsors.

The state-of-the-art argument in favor of the travel ban is stated by the Heritage Foundation’s Ray Walser, who sort of loosely characterizes the views of those of us who favor unrestricted travel. If there’s anyone who believes that the “absence of change” in Cuba is “the fault of the U.S.,” then I’m with Ray on that point – Cuban communism’s longevity is due to internal factors.

An end to travel restrictions will not change Cuba’s political order any more than the sanctions-on-steroids policies of President Bush. But an unregulated flow of American citizens and private institutions will increase American influence in a place where it’s scant today.

Ray’s more interesting point is that “the voiceless Cuban people” deserve to be heard. True that, as they say.

We don’t have polls on this. So one could begin by asking if the Cuban people are introverts by nature and want to be isolated from foreign visitors. Or if any people living under communism has ever wanted that. I don’t think so, on either score.

But we can cite some “voiceless” Cubans, too.

There’s dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, one of the 75 imprisoned in 2003:

“Democratic countries that wish to help the Cuban people should recognize the existence of a new situation that calls for new thinking. The policy of isolating Cuba and favoring confrontation, practiced for decades by U.S. authorities, should be replaced by mechanisms of contacts, fundamentally with [Cuban] society, without excluding eventual meetings with the Cuban government, as done by the Nixon and Reagan Administrations with the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, China, and Vietnam, and now attempted with North Korea. The goal would be to contribute to creating a less tense atmosphere, where it would be difficult for the hardliners to obtain alibis to cultivate false nationalism and to block changes…Immediate steps could be taken such as permitting Cuban Americans to visit the island and help their family and friends economically without restriction…[this step] would make people who receive assistance more independent of the totalitarian state…It would also be very valuable to promote exchanges between the American and Cuban people in all spheres, including cultural, academic, scientific, and sports.”

There’s blogger Yoani Sanchez:

“Change will come not through government agencies but through the citizens and the spread of information and exchange with the outside world.”

Hector Palacios, another of the 75, was quoted as follows by AFP last May:

“Without dialogue, there is no peaceful change,” he opined, before pointing out “a series of points that have to disappear from the embargo,” in his opinion. “First, that Cubans [Cuban Americans] may travel to their country any time they wish, that they may send their family what they want to send, and also that U.S. citizens may visit us…”

Or there’s human rights activists Elizardo Sanchez and Vladimiro Roca, in a May 2003 statement to the Center for International Policy:

“Just as we insist on the right of Cubans to travel, to leave and return to our country freely, a right now denied us, so too do we support the right of Americans to travel freely, including travel to Cuba.”

Or Cardinal Jaime Ortega, in a March 2005 meeting with Congressional visitors:

“Tourism is one of the only things that has brought change to Cuba in recent years, and it has even forced the government to change some of its ways of doing business. It has allowed some people to work with a measure of freedom, such as people who rent rooms to tourists in their homes, and artists who sell to tourists. Artisans have developed a great deal. And the presence of tourists has allowed people to feel that they are not so isolated.”

Or Oswaldo Paya, leader of the Varela Project, interviewed by Germany’s Der Spiegel in April 2003:

“We call on all foreigners who visit our country to show solidarity, hold demonstrations, speak out for an opening in Cuba. We do not want pressures from the United States, much less an intervention…We don’t believe in the effects of the economic embargo, nor have we asked for it.”

While we’re at it, it’s worth looking at the views of Freedom House, which notes, “The United States does not impose similarly restrictive travel sanctions on Americans to other regimes that receive Freedom House’s lowest freedom ratings, including Burma, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.”

And there’s this from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

My own views are here, prompted by Secretary of State Rice’s spokesman, who in 2007 criticized Cuba’s travel restrictions on its own citizens without a trace of irony. (The only update is to the CIA’s economic growth estimate for Cuba: it’s now 5.3 percent for 2008.)


Anonymous said...

let the final battle begin lets see if the travel restrictions will end, and stay that way (unlike under Carter) and then the embargo. and then lets see where this will go.
heritage foundation state of the art argument? hardly. just the same right wing claptrap that does not address the affect American policies have had on cuba and the govt's siege mentality. no mention of the history between US and Cuba re nationalism, colonialism and America's attempts to destroy instead of engage.

Anonymous said...

This is vital post and provides important insights. The only ones for travel restrictions, on average, are the MIami exiles who want revenge. (and maybe a relatively small group in cuba, who get money from miami NGOs, so they feel obliged to 'get in line')

The strong brave folks actually fighting Castro tryanny in cuba are agasint us ban. That's enough for me.

More important, real average cubans, rural and urban, include strong anti-castro folk, are against us ban. Once in cuba, i remember how much talking with real cubans, just average folk, (friends and neighbors of my family), slowly changed my mind on this. I used to be for restrictions, but when I saw how much real ordinary cubans were against the US restrictions and felt it as soft war , i have changed my mind.

Of course, the miami folk wouldn't know this, nor care, since they have never been to cuba, refuse to talk to real cubans and many can't even speak spanish!

instead the anti travel group prefers to read glenn beck and profess tim mcvaigh type consipiracy theories. (just look at babalu, 1/4 his posts are taken from michell milken, beck, or some other wing nuttery). He even said he loves limbaugh.

Anonymous said...

10:28, as long as you sit there and piss and moan about the United States this and the United States that, then nothing will change. No one in Washington wants to here it's all OUR fault. Screw you. The first step to change policy is to acknowledge that the regime in Cuba is abusive, bankrupt, and an anachronism and then discuss how best to bring change that benefits the Cuban people, since they are denied that opportunity.

Anonymous said...

anon 1054
exactly right; the travel restrictions, embargo etc simply hurt average cubans, those in favor of it want to continue the punishment for their own reasons.
However, the American perspective has to get beyond the rational that ending the travel restrictions and embargo will have this or that affect in Cuba. these aggressive policies should end for the sake of the Cuban people, the after affects NO one can predict. Of course there will be energies released and movements created that could, and should, help promote change and reform in Cuba -- based on so many factors being unleashed. But it'll come from bottom top as most reforms do, from the cuban people who may not have to rely so much on the govt; from the govt that will have to react to the new set of rules and realities; from the end of the punishment.
but the travel restrictions and embargo et al should be ended because it's the right thing to do.

Anonymous said...

anon 1116

i assume you mean hear.
anyway, please tell me what country has the embargo on Cuba; has tried to destroy the regime for 50 years, prevents its citizens from travel to Cuba, has officially laid out plans to control another country's government, economy in post-castro. Has allowed thousands of terrorist attacks from its soil against Cuba. has done everything in its power to force other nations not to trade or conduct relations with cuba.
if you think that has not had any affect on the people or regime, please explain. Denying reality doesn't change it.

Anonymous said...

Regardless of the merits, there will be no significant change in travel policy coming from Congress unless 60+ votes can be garnered for it in the Senate. Any change in the near term will arise from executive orders or stealth revision to Treasury regs.

Anonymous said...

if the right wing appeasers don't rip out the cuba portions of the bill, then the travel restrictions have a good chance of being signed by obama. congress has had enough support in the past, in both houses, without the current predominance of the democratic party. now with even more bi-partisan support i think there's a good chance, and the reps don't lead the senate. it'll be interesting to see how much influence the Cuban-American gusano politicians have now. it seems the political stars may be lined up against them.

Anonymous said...

anon 1128, you take that argument to Washington policymakers and you'll be laughed out of the city. Go ahead, tell the Senators and the Reps and the Obama State Department that exact argument and see how far you'll get in changing policy. Whether you think it's right or wrong, that's the reality.

Anonymous said...

ahhh, it's not an argument, it is the fact. you're saying these policies have had no affect on Cuban society and the government national and international policies? i've spoken to many US politicians, and state dept officials and they understand the affect it's had on Cuba. reality i guess is perspective; glad im not in your reality. i'm sure you're not so naive as to think policymakers do it without knowing what the results will be.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter the effect, the travel ban should be removed b/c it the moral and constitutional thing to do.

The effects are not important to me (although certainly if the travel ban were lifted, average cubans would benefit no doubt - that's why nearly 99 percent of real cubans- i.e. the ones who live in cuba are against the travel ban, no matter what their poltics).

to promote 'democracy ' as goal is perverse! and imperialism, nothing else Do the chinese try to 'promote' collectivism in usa... do middle eastern countries 'promote' sharia law in usa...give me a break, miami mafia are nothing less than neocons.. They want war with gaza, iran (look at how the cubans vote on israel), and china.
They woudl probably also promote bombing of N. korea, etc. don't let the CA's fool you, they aren't just for cuban freedom (which real cubans do deserve), but rather for total hemonomy of neo-con ideology and right wing polices. Go to babalu, look how they talk about other countries, ... they even call Canada soft communsit, to show you how extreme they are.

leftside said...

I am glad there are more voices on this blog now. But could you all choose identities? Keeping track of the debates is nearly impossible with all the anons.

Anonymous said...

anon 211
right on; its so frustrating to keep listening to the crap of bringing freedom to cuba; the americans brought freedom in 1898 and look what happened. are this people blind to see how the cuban govt reacts, justifiably, to the threats etc

anonimo y 141, 1239

leftside said...

I have heard estimates of 3 million US tourists per year? That would more than double the current number. Can Cuba handle that amount of people? I think they have more than 50,000 hotel rooms today. No doubt we will be seeing a rash of hotel building very soon.

leftside said...

I have to say that this idea that the handful of professional dissidents on the island (Paya, Chepe, Palacios, Yoani) are somehow the "voiceless Cubans" is more than a little absurd. Although they represent a tiny minority of public opinion on the island they are the only ones who get their voices heard in the US with any regularity. In short, our media treats these folks as if they are the voice of Cuba, when nothing could be further from the truth. I know that Phil knows this and only quoted them because they are the only ones who are have their thoughts regularly printed in the US, but I could not let this pass without comment.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Phil, you're doing your masters proud. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

thank you for that insightful comment leftside. you bring new meaning to the word lickspittle.


Jose said...

Thanks for post. Real cuban voices are the ones rarely heard.

Anonymous said...

define real cuban voices; its all point of view isn't is.

Unknown said...

Phil, do you have a cite for the Cardinal Jaime Ortega Interview? Trying to track it down, and can't.