COHA Opinion: Lifting the Travel and Trade Restrictions on Cuba Closer than Ever

Since 1960, Washington has been seeking ways to punish Cuba for its transgressions, real and imagined. The embargo was also meant to force the Cuban leadership, as well as the island’s population to repent for worshipping their communist canons. Fifty years later, the U.S. has yet to see any sign that its embargo, with which Washington almost alone complies, has never been powerful enough to oust Havana, only to wound it. Today, there is legislation working its way through both the House of Representatives (H.R. 4645) and the Senate (S. 428) that would lift the travel ban on Americans wanting to visit Cuba and eliminate many of the restrictions on U.S. food exports to the island. The question is, will the Obama administration provide the necessary leadership to round up sufficient votes in congress to enact the measures.

H.R. 4645, referred to as the “Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act,” was introduced by Representative Peterson (D-MN). It would not only lift the travel restrictions against all American citizens intent on traveling to Cuba, but would also loosen existing restrictions on food exports there. The passage of the legislation by the House of Representatives and Senate would represent the most progressive travel and trade reform bill on Cuba ever achieved in Congress. The present bipartisan support for this bill gives it a leg up over previously proposed legislation. While supporters of the bill still must overcome the rabid anti-Cuba House faction, the apparent majority in the Congress is pushing for a more rational route for a more relaxed U.S. policy toward Cuba. Even though the bill still has two more House committee votes to traverse, there has been less opposition to the measure there than in the Senate.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced Senate bill S. 428, the “Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act,” in February of 2009. This measure only addresses lifting the travel ban and does not deal with the issue of food exports to Cuba. S. 428 has yet to be voted upon by the Foreign Relations Committee; however, hard-line senators stuck in a Cold War frame of mind have promised to filibuster it if it comes to be debated on the Senate floor. The most vociferous foe of the Senate version bill is Senator Menendez (D-NJ), well known for his explosive rants against the Castro regime. After the House committee on Agriculture passed H.R. 4645, Menendez issued a statement lashing out against agribusinesses for caring only “about padding their profits by opening a new market.” Menendez sees making money off a communist country as morally reprehensible. However, he uttered no such biting statements about U.S. trade with China or Vietnam. So why is Cuba treated so irreverently by the likes of Menendez, whose indignation when it comes to dictatorships is so hugely selective?

The answer is that this type of traditional ethic fury has been the controlling motivation behind US-Cuba policy changes that have persisted over 5 decades. Now that the White House claims to be bringing hope and change to old tired ideas, it might want to extend that attitude to legislation on Havana. Now under the rule of Raúl Castro, the island has shown the world that it is open to more democratic ideals by passing a whole series of modest initiatives. The recent announcement of his intent to release 52 political prisoners is the kind of move repeatedly called for by Washington as a necessary precursor to a change in US policies. As a result, it may be time for the United States to take advantage of tourism and other business activities, only 90 miles from our shores.

7 thoughts on “COHA Opinion: Lifting the Travel and Trade Restrictions on Cuba Closer than Ever

  • August 5, 2010 at 7:50 pm
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    I totally support your position vis-a-vis freedom of travel and trade with Cuba. That said, to justify that position on the grounds that with Raul Castro Cuba is now "open to more democratic ideals" is absurd. There is no evidence of such in Cuba. Would you not rather say that a less threatening stance by the U.S. might encourage the elite to be less repressive with those peacefully advocating such ideals?

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  • August 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm
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    Truth is that the bill doesn't HAVE TO go through the other 2 committees. The Chairs of both could waive their jurisdiction over it and/or Pelosi could "encourage" the Rules Committee to bring the bill directly to the floor. But, yes there is Menendez… who is about to retire… so he has nothing to lose by raging against his own party. Unbelievable that the rights of the citizens of this entire nation is still being held hostage by a shrinking gang of bitter Cubans, talk about a dictatorship!

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  • August 6, 2010 at 2:45 am
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    The Cuba boycott is unsustainable and morally and ethically wrongheaded. The key to regularizing relations with Cuba is to open a no-preconditions set of talks on how to settle mutual grievances, such as compensation for seized assets following the revolution, a clampdown on anti-Cuban subversion and terrorist planning, the release of the Cuban five, the resumption of commercial ties and exchange of diplomats. The time has come to end the madness and nothing will change Cuban society more than increased contact with American, for the worse and the better.

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  • August 5, 2010 at 9:42 pm
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    The destruction of Cuba can only be blamed on the cruel and inmoral dictatorship of the Castro brothers. Cuba was a beautiful island which, before Castro, enjoyed one of the highest standards of living of all Latin America,. This included an excellent free educational system and an outstanding system of medical care, affordable or free to ALL citizens.
    Only the Cubans who knew the real Cuba, before the destructive revolution, know what we lost. We had a little paradise which now looks like an inferno.
    If you really like Castro you should move to Cuba and live like the Cubans do, in poverty, filth and terror, I can assure you it won't take long before you will be willing to join the sharks to get out.

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  • August 6, 2010 at 3:41 am
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    I want to join Irwin Block!!! And I think Maria Taylor is certainly misinformed about the circumstances before the revolution.
    Apart from that, I wonder if it might be possible within the US congress and senate to leave behind ideological prejudices.
    One of my first lesson in education sciences was: sanctions are no models for behavor.
    Only dialogue in mutuel respect will bring progress to both sides.
    The first noble gesture should be offered by the stronger part.
    It would be, in my opinion, to let the Cuban Five go home.
    They would not have entered the USA if not in defence of necessity.
    During the last weeks thousands of people around the world protestet against the repeated arbitrary treatment of one of the Cuban Five, Gerardo Hernández Nordelo whose attorney had filed an appeal according to habeas corpus act.
    The case demonstrated again that your own laws are violated as soon as it comes to Cuba. Please visit http://www.freethefive.org .

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  • August 6, 2010 at 8:06 am
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    I want to add: "Maria Taylor" is also misinformed about Cuban reality nowadays.
    The original meaning of Democracy is "power of the people", but hearing the American pronounciation of "Democracy", it sounds as if the word would contain the verb to "mock" … the power of the respective administration, congress members etc. as representatives of the people, to "mock the people?

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  • August 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm
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    Eliminating the travel restrictions is the right thing to do, regardless of all other considerations. It is time for this absurd policy to end. And the embargo shortly after that. The Cuban government and its people have been under siege for more than 50 years, including suffering more than 800 acts of terrorism. Enough.

    And enough of the historical revisionism of Maria Taylor and that type. Cuba's economy in comparison to Latin America pre-revolution was skewered entirely towards Havana, as was the medical care and education systems. There is a whole raft of historical evidence to show how poorly the Cubans in the countryside were living in comparison to the Habaneros. To suggest otherwise is simply to continue a fantasy long ago discredited.

    Here's some statistics about Cuban reality of the1950s:

    Sixty per cent of physicians, 62 per cent of dentists, and 80 per cent of hospital beds were in Havana in 1956-57. There was only one hospital in rural Cuba. Four out of five rural workers received medical attention only if they paid for it; and as a result most had no access to health care.

    Rural workers had a 1,000 calorie daily deficit and were 16 per cent under average height and weight. Average life expectancy was five years less in rural Cuban.

    Illiteracy rates in urban centres was 11 per cent, in rural Cuba it was 41 per cent. Employment during dead time in the countryside was 20 per cent, underemployment averaged 13.8 percent annually.

    Housing – most rural Cubans in 1957 lived in housing WITHOUT running water (85 per cent) a toilet (54 per cent) electricity (93 per cent) or a refrigerator (96 per cent). Urban Cubans WITH electricity was at 87 per cent; a refrigerator 40 per cent; running water 82 per cent and toilet 93 per cent.

    The figures come from the book The Cuban Revolution; origins course and legacy, based on international agency reports and United Nation examination.

    As for employment — In 1957 more than 55 per cent of the Cuban work force worked less than 33 weeks of the year, thanks to the short three month sugar harvest when they worked like pigs, while during the rest of the year there was no work. And how did they survive the other nine months? They were forced to purchase food and goods from the company stores, tying them effectively into never-ending indentured labor for themselves and their families.

    The Revolution didn't happen out of thin air.

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