Truth About the “Travel Ban”
BY MAURICIO CLAVER-CARONE
Every day there seems to be a new effort to lift U.S. sanctions toward Cuba, in particular the “travel ban.” The latest is a bill by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson, of Minnesota, and U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, supposedly aimed at increasing agricultural sales to the Castro regime. But its most dramatic provision would end the “travel ban.”
Tragically, the Peterson-Moran bill was introduced on the same day that 42-year-old Cuban pro-democracy leader and Amnesty International “prisoner of conscience” Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after an almost three-months’-long hunger strike protesting the brutal beatings, abuses and prison conditions he endured. While supporters of loosening the travel ban make bold predictions and philosophical arguments, few stick to the facts. Consider:
• There is no ban on travel to Cuba — only a ban on taking an exotic vacation there. The Department of Treasury’s responsibility, under the trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA), is to prohibit or regulate commercial “transactions” related to travel, not travel per se.
Travel to Cuba is authorized for a variety of reasons, ranging from academic, religious and family visits to visits in support of civil society. Tens of thousands of Americans legally travel to Cuba for these purposes every year.
• Tourism is the main source of income for the Castro regime. Cuba’s tourism industry is operated and owned by the Cuban military, the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR).
A November-December 2009 article in the U.S. Army’s Military Review magazine titled, Revolutionary management, makes the point that Cuba’s “Revolutionary Armed Forces transformed itself to one of the most entrepreneurial, corporate conglomerates in the Americas.”
Cuba is one of the world’s last remaining totalitarian, command-control economies, alongside North Korea. Just as the U.S. Congress recently approved sanctions on Iran’s petroleum-refining capability, which is that country’s foremost source of income, the United States has long imposed sanctions against tourism transactions in Cuba to prevent an exponential increase in funds for the Castro regime’s repressive machinery.
Last November’s military exercises by the MINFAR in Cuba were financed by the hard currency of Canadian and European tourists. The real purpose of those exercises wasn’t, as the Cuban government stated, to prepare against an “ever-looming” U.S. invasion, but, rather, to remind Cubans of the government’s ability to crush its domestic opponents.
It would be much more forthright to label legislation to lift restrictions on tourism to Cuba as the Cuban Armed Forces Stimulus Act.
• We constantly hear the argument that tourism transactions are permitted with other state-sponsors of terrorism, such
as Iran, Sudan and Syria, so why not with Cuba? While undoubtedly rich in culture, Tehran, Khartoum and Damascus are not appealing tourism destinations or easily accessible to Americans.
Cuba, with its sunny beaches and proximity, is an appealing vacation destination for American tourists, but so, too, are many other Caribbean islands with democratic governments. Last year, more U.S. tourists visited Jamaica than the African continent or the Middle East.
Should U.S. policy beggar friendly democratic neighbors to court an unfriendly repressive neighbor?
• Current U.S. policy toward Cuba has not failed. In order to label a policy as a failure, there needs to be evidence of the success, or likely success, of alternatives.
The fact is that almost two decades of Canadian and European tourism to Cuba has not eased the Castro regime’s repression, improved its respect for basic human rights or helped Cuba’s civil society gain any democratic space. Even supporters of
lifting tourism sanctions concede this. At a CATO Institute forum in December, U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, recognized that “there are no guarantees that this will bring democracy to Cuba.”
What lifting restrictions on tourist travel will guarantee is that the Cuban military will double its income. To spend on what? Guns to rein in civil dissent? Technology to further censor Cubans’ access to the Internet? Intelligence assets to support anti-American activities?
The question to be answered by Peterson, Moran, Flake and other supporters of lifting sanctions is: Do they trust the Cuban military with an exponential rise in income?
The answer leads to only one fact, with real consequences:
For Cubans, the consequence of lifting restrictions on U.S. tourism is more repression; for the United States, it’s having financed that repression.