Earlier this week, Congressman Howard Berman said, “I am totally committed to getting rid of the travel ban” that stops Americans from freely visiting Cuba.
Late Wednesday evening, Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, made good on that commitment and scheduled a legislative mark-up of the legislation, H.R. 4645, that would enable all Americans to visit the island.
Berman has been trying since 1986 to get rid of the travel ban. It’s easy to argue that it’s never a bad time to end a bad policy. But just days before the Congressional recess, and weeks before 2010 Congressional elections, Berman has chosen a very difficult moment to challenge the stranglehold that embargo supporters have held on progress and to force committee consideration of this measure. Yet, circumstances in Cuba and here in the U.S. have compelled him to try.
For its part, Cuba is taking strong and difficult measures to address its economic conditions. As one analyst said, when the state announced layoffs of 500,000 workers from its payrolls, it was multiplying its official rate of unemployment six-fold, without assurances that the modest reforms it announced would enable Cuba’s nascent private sector to absorb the unemployed.
This is larger than an economic decision; it is a sharp departure from a social contract that has existed in Cuba since the Revolution. We said this last week and it bears repeating – even in a one-party state, this is a tough decision to take politically, and it is happening at the same time as Cuba is making good on its promise to release dozens of political prisoners.
Cuba’s government is taking these steps to revitalize its society, not to salve relations with the United States, but these are measures we’ve been asking them to take for decades as the price for changing U.S. policy.
Berman is not standing alone in recognizing that this is the right time to act. In the last week, there has been a remarkable chorus of editorial opinion in U.S. newspapers – starting with calls to change U.S. policy and an endorsement of the travel legislation, but culminating in calls for an end to the embargo itself.
In Loveland, Colorado, the Reporter Herald said:
The U.S. can either continue to shun Cuba and punish Fidel Castro for the actions of a previous generation, possibly leading to a new wave of immigrants washing ashore in Florida, or we can reach out and try to help both of our nations recover from this recession.
The Providence Journal said:
Cuba has been bankrupt for 20 years, since the Soviet Union, which used to buy its sugar crop at inflated prices, went south, but this is the country’s first real step away from a planned economy. As such, it comes very late — the process will have many more steps and take a long time. In any event, the U.S. should end its trade embargo and travel restrictions regarding Cuba.
The Journal Star of Peoria wrote:
For too long the Cuban government has used the U.S. embargo as an excuse for the ongoing deprivation its citizens endure. Not only did this provide their autocratic government with a convenient whipping boy – don’t blame us, blame the Americans! – it also permitted their leaders to retain a stranglehold over the island by overseeing state-run industries in nearly every economic sector and being the only source most Cubans could turn to for food, clothing and shelter. In any case, nearly 50 years of trade restrictions haven’t achieved the desired result….
The Chattanooga Times Free Press said:
The long-standing embargo that restricts trade between the United States and Cuba remains in place. The ban has never been effective. Its main accomplishment is negative rather than positive. It keeps U.S. firms out of the Cuban marketplace as others, particularly from Europe and other hemispheric nations, rush in to take advantage of the looser regulations now governing trade and commerce in Cuba. Congress should end the trade embargo.
The Boston Herald Editorial Board, in an editorial called “Hit Reset on Cuba,” said this about U.S. policy toward Cuba:
With Cuba giving up communism, the United States should give up its trade embargo against the island. There is no point in beating this proverbial dead horse.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch endorsed the legislation before Berman’s Committee saying:
The hardest of Cuba’s hardliners are softening their rigid doctrine. The U.S. government should remain skeptical to ensure that any changes are real and fundamental. Yet the anti-Castro hardliners in Miami and a vocal minority in Congress no longer should reflexively block U.S. policy changes that would further open Cuba.
Berman told Reuters, “I’m not going to bring it up to lose.” He should not have to try. Along with editorial expressions of support for changing U.S. policy, the voices of reasonable men and women of good will should also be heard. There are many ways to express your opinion about why the travel ban should be lifted, but there isn’t much time left to do so. The Latin America Working Group offers a convenient way to tell policy makers to do the right thing in Berman’s Committee next week.
The easy way out is for Congress to say it’s a bad time politically, but that’s not leadership and it’s not the right way to act at this critical time. As former Senator Gary Hart liked to say, “The easy path is the beaten path, but the beaten path seldom leads to the future.”