Just before our colleague got on a plane from Mexico City heading back to Washington, she wrote to ask what had happened in Washington since she left.
When we said, the government was about to default on its debt and that political chaos was reigning in the Congress, we considered the irony; in the 1980s, that is what travelers said was going on in Latin America after they came back. Now, the shoe is on the other foot, and it pinches.
Yes, there is a stormy and dispiriting debate taking place in the U.S. over the size of the state, the role of the government, and the nation’s finances. And yes, at the end of the debate, we expect that the U.S. government will be forced to cut back its spending and its programs and be less present (or intrusive, depending on your perspective) in our citizens’ lives.
Except, worryingly, in these related areas.
First, if majorities on the House Appropriations and Foreign Affairs Committees get their way, the Federal government will actually increase its meddling in the choices U.S. citizens get to make in where they choose to travel. As we previously reported, these panels want to sharply cut back on the rights of Cuban Americans to visit their families in Cuba and some legislators want to go further and take away recently granted rights for other Americans to visit the island under non-tourist, people-to-people programs as well.
These proposals not only intrude on U.S. citizens’ travel rights, but they will also cost the U.S. Treasury millions of dollars if they become law, because they will also diminish federal revenues based on the taxes collected on airline tickets.
The Associated Press is reporting that the threat of renewed restrictions on travel has some in the Cuban American community fearful. “Of course the (Cuban) government gets some of our money, but what are we going to do? Should our families starve?,” asks Sonia Rodriguez.
To be clear, a majority of Americans – and strong majorities of Cuban Americans – support increased travel to Cuba, not less. Cutting travel also imposes humanitarian barriers on the ability of families to unite and provide support, and travel restrictions cut U.S. government revenues. In other words, at a time when Washington is debating on how to cut spending and curb the role of government, restrictions on travel to Cuba achieve the opposite results.
If this is confusing to us, we can only imagine how confusing it is to our readers living elsewhere in the region.
Which brings us to the second development: democracy promotion.
There is still funding in the State Department Budget for the USAID “democracy promotion programs”. Perhaps they could use some of this money to hire consultants who can explain why stopping Americans from traveling to Cuba will someday inspire Cuba to end restrictions on the rights of Cubans to travel to travel here.
We’re kidding, of course. We think the U.S. would set a much better example if it ended the debate, paid its bills, honored the travel rights of the American people, and saved the money it would otherwise spend on democracy promotion by doing the right thing here at home.
This week in Cuba news…