Friday, June 14, 2013

End restrictions on travel to Cuba

There is a quick way for our nation to help overwhelm Cuba’s censorship and propaganda. Simply allow Americans—the most effective ambassadors for democracy and free enterprise—to travel more easily to Cuba.
    Having more Americans visit Cuba would almost surely boost capitalism in a country that is cautiously experimenting with property rights and private enterprise.
    This can be done without the political firefight of eliminating the 50-year-old Cuban embargo, which greatly restricts trade and travel to Cuba.
    We think the embargo no longer serves a useful purpose. Indeed, it gives the Cuban government a scapegoat for its failed economic policies. As John Caulfield, chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, says, Cuba’s financial woes are a result of “Cuba’s choice of an economic model.”
    But eliminating the embargo or allowing unrestricted travel to Cuba will require congressional approval, a political challenge.
    In contrast, President Barack Obama by executive order can require that general licenses be issued for all approved travel to Cuba.
    Americans now can receive a visa to travel for such specific purposes as education and cultural studies. These trips must be guided by licensed travel services that are required to follow a strict agenda.
    Everything is tightly regulated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control to ensure there are no violations of the sanctions against Cuba. (Cuban-Americans appropriately have no restrictions on traveling to visit family.)
    The approval process for the specific visas can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Obtaining general license is far less complicated, so expanding its use would eliminate red tape and diminish barriers to travel.
    It could, depending on how the executive order was written, give travelers more flexibility in what they do in Cuba. It might allow Americans to travel outside of tours. This would likely benefit those Cubans trying to establish private businesses, such as small hotels or restaurants.

The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune published this editorial on June 9.

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