There is a cacophony of opinion being expressed on travel these days. As we wait for the President and Congress to act, now is the time to raise our voices so that the pro-travel position is heard – and heeded – in the White House and on Capitol Hill.
Why is this moment so important? President Obama has pegged future progress on reforming Cuba policy to actions by the Cuban government on issues such as releasing political prisoners. While Cuba rejects this linkage, the government has worked with Spain and Cuba’s Catholic Church on an agreement that provides for the release of all 52 prisoners rounded up in March 2003, a significant breakthrough. The credibility of the president’s policy now depends on the U.S. responding in an affirmative way. Congress is also watching the president carefully, with legislation to end the travel ban pending in the House.
Silence on our side would be a huge mistake. The powerfully influential pro-embargo lobby has already pressed its case. Last week, five Cuban American Members of Congress challenged the legal basis of expanding categories of travel in a letter to President Obama.
In it, they warn the President against using his authority to expand travel to the island – whether it’s adding new airports to accommodate more departures or providing general licenses for cultural and academic exchange, even religious travel – labeling such changes as tourism and violations of Helms-Burton. The full text of the letter can be found here.
Left unsaid, however, is this inconvenient truth. The president’s decision to remove restrictions on what is called ‘family travel,’ motivated by his well-founded desire to reunite divided families, has also led to a double-digit jump in tourism by Cuban Americans to Cuba, according to statistics provided to us by a foreign investor in Cuba’s hotels, including visits to beachfront hotels.
But you don’t hear the opponents of travel by other Americans demanding the rollback of travel by Cuban Americans, even though ‘travel supports the regime,’ as they like to say, and you never will.
We have no beef against family travel, just the opposite. The Cuban family has suffered decades of separation – made worse by Bush-era rules that tried to eliminate even Cuban American visits to the island – and the Obama administration was right to restore them without limits as it did last year. We are thankful that many Cuban families in this country have the resources to take their kin on the island for vacations they could not afford on their own.
But nothing as fundamental as the right to travel should be diluted or degraded by a form of second-class citizenship. That right belongs to us all – no matter our heritage – and that is why this moment in the debate is so important and commands our attention and active involvement.
First, as we have said for several weeks, now is the time for President Obama to use the fullest extent of his authority to restore all of the categories of travel that opened during the Clinton administration but were banished by Bush. Three of our Congressional champions – Reps. Jim McGovern, Jo Ann Emerson, and Rosa DeLauro – make this case, sharply and clearly, in this well-argued letter to the President. They speak for scores of their colleagues in Congress and for all of us.
Second, once Obama acts, this will be a profoundly important signal to Congress to finish the job and to open all forms of travel to Cuba for all Americans. That is where our activism is especially needed now.
The Latin American Working Group (LAWG) has posted this petition on Change.org that asks the Congress to end the travel ban for all Americans. Signing this petition will result in an email being sent to your Representative in Congress signaling your support for H.R. 4645, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act – the bill to open travel for all of us, and to increase the sales of food to help average Cubans on the island.
We want President Obama to act and hope he does so soon. But remember – only Congress has the authority to open up travel to Cuba fully, and they need to hear from us to ensure that we capitalize on this moment to move Cuba policy in the right direction.
Now is the time for us all to be heard. Read the rest of this entry »