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Five Reasons To Support S.299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act (Flake/Leahy)

Ric Herrero


Jun 15, 2016

1. You Can’t Promote Freedom In Cuba By Denying It To Americans

Cuba is the only country in the world Americans are barred from freely traveling to by their own government. They are not similarly restricted from visiting other communist nations like China or from visiting dangerous and openly anti-American countries like North Korea. Only for Cuba are Americans required to obtain licenses for “purposeful travel” and refrain from tourism.

Restricted travel constitutes an overreach on Americans’ freedom of movement and, contrary to the claims of embargo supporters, has done nothing to curb human rights abuses by the Cuban government. One only needs to look at the previous administration to see how the tightening of trade and travel restrictions did little to promote freedom in Cuba. Indeed, it was current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan who called for opening up travel to Cuba in 2002 as a way to “open closed societies”:

“Mr. Chairman, it has been the American policy from Republican presidents and Democrat presidents that we engage; it has been in the American policy that we engage the Soviet Union, that we engage China, that we, just a few minutes ago, voted to engage Vietnam.

“We should do the same with Cuba. The simple reason is that it has been a bedrock principle of American policy that travel is a device that opens closed societies. American travelers are our best ambassadors. They carry the idea of freedom to people from communist countries. There is no reason to make this exception for Cuba.

“We want Americans to go down and exchange ideas, to show them the taste of freedom, to know what kind of brutal totalitarian regime they are living under. A people cannot rise up and ask for alternatives if they are not acquainted with those alternatives.

“We are simply saying this 42-year practice of turning our backs, of looking inward, of being hypocrites while we go to China and Russia and Vietnam, must be ended.”

Americans support lifting the embargo’s trade and travel restrictions on a strong bipartisan basis. Whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, Americans understand that over five decades of failed policy need to be brought to an end.
The Senate should pass S.299 Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act and restore the right of all Americans to freely travel.

2. U.S. Travel to Cuba Is Strengthening the Cuban People, Not Repression

Contrary to what embargo defenders tell the American people, there is no evidence that increased American travel is bankrolling repression in Cuba. On the contrary, the evidence overwhelming shows that travel by U.S. citizens is contributing to the increased autonomy of the Cuban people.

It is no secret that the Cuban military controls the Island’s tourism sector, but since President Obama began to gradual expand American travel to Cuba seven years ago, we’ve seen a vast expansion of the private sector and pockets of free expression sprout throughout the Island. There are more independent businesses operating in Cuba today than at anytime since Fidel Castro assumed power. At the same time, civil society is more active, vocal and mobile than it has been in decades.

Compare the growth of the past seven years to the period between 2000 and 2008 when codified travel restrictions were rigorously enforced. During that time, the government actually reduced the private sector and its grip over the activities of its people, particularly in their contacts to the few Americans who did visit the Island during that time, was as suffocating as it had ever been.

3. The Cuban People Overwhelmingly Support Americans Traveling To Cuba

The embargo’s supporters in Congress do not represent the views of the Cuban people, who are overwhelmingly in favor of normalization. A 2015 poll conducted on the island found not only near-unanimous support for closer ties with the United States (97%) and an end to the embargo (96%), but popularity ratings for an American president that far outstripped both of the Castros. Despite its communist government, pro-American sentiment is increasingly on display in Cuba.

4. A Majority Of Cuban-Americans Support A Policy Of Engagement

The idea of Cuba as a political third rail no longer holds water. In fact, a 2014 FIU poll found 69% of Cuban-Americans in South Florida in favor of unrestricted travel for all Americans. Changing views and demographics in the Cuban-American community have also seen support for the embargo steadily erode, with a poll earlier this year finding that 53% supported ending the embargo altogether. Prominent Cuban-American exiles and Republicans like former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Miami businessman Mike Fernandez have come out in support of reengagement, while younger Cuban-Americans have launched new efforts to reconnect with their cultural roots.

5. Doing Away With Isolationist Policies Does Away With The Cuban Government’s Scapegoats

Reestablishing relations with Cuba puts the U.S. in a better position to promote human rights on the island. While critics of normalization rightfully point out Cuba’s troubling human rights record, they ignore the inconvenient fact that human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International support lifting an embargo that has given the Cuban government a scapegoat for its abuses. As Human Rights Watch’s Jose Miguel Vivanco previously wrote:

“For decades, U.S. authorities stubbornly held that the embargo was necessary to promote human rights and democratic change in the island. In fact, though, the embargo did nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. Instead, it imposed indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban population as a whole, and provided the Cuban government with an excuse for its problems and a pretext for its abuses.

“Rather than isolating Cuba, the policy has isolated the United States, enabling the Castro government to garner sympathy abroad while simultaneously alienating Washington’s potential allies.

“To promote human rights, judicial independence, free elections, independent unions, and free expression in Cuba, the U.S. government must understand that a multilateral approach is necessary. Involving key democracies in the region in reaching out to Cuba is much more likely to move the Cuban government toward respecting fundamental rights.

While short-term detentions have increased in recent years, this must be seen in the context of growing activism as a result, in part, of normalization. UNPACU’s José Daniel Ferrer, the head of the largest opposition group on the island, told the New York Times that “Repression has increased, but not because the new policy is weak and paves the way for that, no[.] Repression has increased because every day there’s more activism and courage and the regime fears it will lose control.”

That fear is highly visible in the reaction from hardline Communists within the Cuban government. Fidel Castro’s harshly critical missive published after President Obama’s widely popular visit and heated rhetoric from other members of the Party’s orthodox wing highlight a deep schism between certain government officials seeking to maintain tight control over a changing status quo and the many Cubans who demand faster and more aggressive economic and civil reforms.


Agriculture Exports To Cuba Have Dropped Because Of Restrictive Embargo Policies

U.S. agricultural exports to Cuba have dropped substantially over the past decade thanks to self-defeating embargo laws that cost Americans business with the island. Under current regulations, U.S. exporters are barred from selling agricultural products to Cuba on credit. As a result, we needlessly lose out on a market of 11 million people to countries like Vietnam, Brazil, and France that offer friendlier trade terms.
American farmers around the country have been clear on where they stand about being shut out in Cuba. Congress should pass bipartisan legislation like the Agricultural Export Expansion Act that will do away with harmful red tape and level the playing field for U.S. agricultural exporters.

The Increase In Migration to the United States Is Being Driven By Failed Embargo Policies, Not Normalization

The Obama Administration has been careful to stress that they have no plans to change the Cuban Adjustment Act in the wake of normalization. Nonetheless, critics have recklessly peddled rumors to the contrary that the CAA will soon be abolished. This irresponsible scaremongering has helped drive a spike in migration from Cubans worried that they would not only lose their chance to live in the U.S., but remain stuck in Cuba with our economic sanctions still in effect.

Addressing the Cuban migration crisis requires Congress to do more than repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act—which must be done if the Cuban people are to build their own future. It also requires them to lift the economic sanctions against Cuba that contribute to the conditions that drive so many to take dangerous journeys by land and sea.