Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pros and cons of lifting ban on travel to Cuba

Cuban countryside

Here are some talking points prepared by anti-embargo activists:

For fifty years, U.S. policy toward Cuba – diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions – has failed to advance our goals for human and political rights on the island while also harming the U.S. national interest. That is why retired U.S. military leaders, respected human rights advocates, former political prisoners and dissidents on the island, and growing majorities of Americans and Cuban-Americans want all U.S. citizens to have the right to travel to Cuba as part of a new policy based on engagement with the Cuban people.

1. Retired senior officers of the U.S. armed forces affirm that Cuba is not a security threat, that the current embargo in fact strengthens the Cuban government, and that allowing the freedom to travel to Cuba offers real benefits to the Cuban people.

• In a letter to President Obama, twelve high-ranking retired military officers said that “Cuba ceased to be a military threat decades ago… (but) the current embargo serves more to prop up the Castro regime.” Advocating for the freedom to travel, these esteemed military leaders said “By sending our best ambassadors – the American people – to engage their Cuban neighbors, we have a much better chance of influencing the eventual course of Cuban affairs” and promoting a more pluralistic and open society. – Letter from retired military officers to President Obama, April 13, 2009.

• General James T. Hill, a U.S. Army Retired Four Star General, and former Combatant Commander of U.S. Southern Command, has argued that engagement with Cuba would provide the island with an important alternative to Venezuelan and Russian influence. He has also written “Our national policy toward Cuba, to encourage democracy and the overthrow of Fidel’s communist government through sanctions, has failed miserably.” – “9 Ways for US to talk to Cuba and for Cuba to talk to US,” The Center for Democracy in the Americas, 2009.

• The strategy of starving the Cuban government by restricting U.S. travel is ineffective since Cuba is steadily building beneficial economic and diplomatic relationships with other countries throughout the world such as Venezuela, Brazil, China, Russia, among others.

2. Enforcement of the ban against travel to Cuba wastes U.S. tax dollars and diverts them from real threats, which compromises the security of all Americans.

• In a 2008 report, the GAO found that after 2001, OFAC opened more investigations and imposed more penalties for embargo violations, such as buying Cuban cigars, than for violations of other sanctions, such as those on Iran.

• The GAO also found that the Treasury Department’s disproportionate focus on enforcement of the rules against travel and trade with Cuba "have strained C.B.P.'s [Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security] capacity to carry out its primary mission of keeping terrorists, criminals and inadmissible aliens from entering the country.”

3. Ending the travel ban would be good for the U.S. economy; it would expand demand for U.S. products, help the tourist travel and airline industries, and create much-needed American jobs.

• U.S. economic output would increase by between $1.18 billion and $1.61 billion a year and create 16,888 to 23,020 new jobs if current restrictions on travel to Cuba were lifted, according to an independent study conducted in 2002 by the Brattle Group, a respected economic forecasting firm.

• According to the Brattle Group report, increased demand for air travel alone would generate significant economic activity due to the corresponding increase in demand for inputs to airline service and the ripple effect on consumer spending. Applying a multiplier estimate of 2.6 to capture these “indirect” and “induced” spending effects, the total impact would range from $650 million to $1.08 billion a year in additional U.S. output and the creation of 9,285 to 15,417 new jobs.

4. A majority of Americans and Cuban Americans support unrestricted travel to Cuba for all.

• A recent Ipsos poll taken April 23-27 finds that 67% of all Americans want the right to travel to Cuba, and 72% of respondents said it would have a positive impact on the island.

• According to a Bendixen and Associates poll taken April 14-16 this year, two-thirds (67%) of Cuban and Cuban-American adults support the lifting of travel restrictions for all Americans so that they can also travel to Cuba freely.

5. Prominent U.S. human rights organizations have called for an end to the travel ban concluding that it does nothing to improve the human rights situation on the island.

• “…this policy [the U.S. ban on travel to Cuba] has proved completely ineffective when it comes to pressuring the Cuban government to dismantle its repressive machinery. The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act is a necessary first step in replacing an ineffective, unilateral policy toward Cuba with a more targeted, multilateral approach.” - José Miguel Vivanco, Americas Director, Human Rights
Watch, 2009.

• “It is well past time to reassess a policy that impedes the ability of American citizens to freely interact with Cubans on a large scale and thus expose them to unfettered information about the outside world. We call on the incoming administration of Barack Obama to reexamine the embargo and to immediately lift the restrictions on remittances and travel to and from the island.” – Jennifer
Windsor, Executive Director of Freedom House.

• “Improving the lives of the Cuban people and encouraging democracy and human rights in Cuba will best be advanced through more, rather than less, contact between the Cuban and American people.” - Most Reverend Howard J. Hubbard, Bishop of Albany, Chairman Committee on International Justice and Peace, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, endorsing The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

6. Political dissidents in Cuba want engagement with the U.S. and the freedom to travel for American citizens. They prefer the U.S. approach toward the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the Cold War, supported by Presidents of both parties, to encourage unrestricted travel so that we could share our ideas, values and culture.

• Dissidents and former political prisoners in Cuba recognize this fact and have repeatedly urged the United States to lift restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba, and especially for an end to restrictions on family travel:

“We fully support lifting all restrictions on Americans to travel to Cuba. It would contribute to better knowing and understanding the realities in our countries. Even by a simple conversation, sharing everyday experiences, Americans would be demonstrating how your society is capable of constantly
deepening and improving democracy, and could help our own efforts for democracy.” - Miriam Leiva, Independent Journalist and Human Rights Activist; Oscar Espinosa Chepe, prisoner of conscience, sentenced to 20 years on March 2003, on conditional release due to serious health problems, April

"I would love to think that this is the year that the embargo ends. The United States government has to reframe its policy towards Cuba, which has not worked for all these years. Trapped in the middle of the rivalry between governments are the Cuban people and I wish that we were the center of
priorities for our government and for the United States." Yoani Sánchez, a Cuban philologist and blogger who is under permanent surveillance by Cuban government officers, April 23, 2008

"Lifting the embargo won't solve the problems of the Cuban people. Maintaining it is no solution, either." - Oswaldo Payá, Cuban dissident and leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, Miami Herald, August 2000.

7. Travel restrictions are inconsistent with U.S. policy on citizen travel to other countries.

• U.S. citizens, barred from traveling freely to Cuba, are allowed to travel to other communist nations, including North Korea, China, and Vietnam. With the recent end to the ban on travel to Libya, Cuba is the only country in the world to which U.S. citizens cannot travel without special government permission.

8. Allowing Americans to travel to Cuba will send an important signal to Latin America as a whole. Currently every nation in the hemisphere - except the U.S. - has full diplomatic relations with Havana. An end to the travel ban would signal a shift in the U.S. approach to Cuba and demonstrate to our democratic allies in the region that we are respecting their concerns while continuing to adhere to our goals for opening political space in Cuba.

• Most other governments have normal diplomatic relations with Cuba, engage with Cuba in other multi-lateral bodies, address concerns about human rights in the context of ongoing dialogue, and place no limitations on the right of their citizens to travel to Cuba.

• At a December 2008 summit in Rio De Janeiro, the leaders of every Latin American country called on the U.S. to end the embargo against Cuba. An end to the ban on travel would be a modest step that would respond to the calls of our friends in the hemisphere.

• In an historic agreement at the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on June 2, 2009, foreign ministers agreed by consensus to end Cuba’s suspension from the body, imposed in 1962 at the height of the Cold War. After rounds of tough negotiations, the U.S. agreed to the language, showing flexibility and a willingness to listen to
regional partners. The final statement set no preconditions, but rather ended the suspension on Cuba and proposed a mechanism for discussion with Cuba if it requests re-admission.

Source: The Center for Democracy in the Americas (, the Latin America Working Group (, the Lexington Institute (, the New America Foundation ( and the Washington Office on Latin America (

Here is a paper suggesting that economic sanctions remain in place:

Do’s and Don’ts of U.S. Policy Towards Cuba

Summary of White Paper Recommendations to the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress

By Cuba Democracy Public Advocacy, Corp.

March 31st, 2009

1. DO Support a “Bottom-to-Top” Model of Change

The most successful transitions to democracy in modern history have been the result of bottom-to-top change. Democratic transitions from Eastern Europe to South Africa, where grassroots movements were grounded on international recognition and support, stand in stark contrast to many of those in the former Soviet Union, where a top-down approach simply resulted in a new version of authoritarianism and repression. U.S. support for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement -- a bottom-to-top approach -- is critical to exerting the type of pressure that can bring about genuine democratic change. The recent leadership purge by Raul and Fidel Castro, which politically decapitated former Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque is yet another reminder of the unlikelihood of a succession of power to a new generation within the current regime. Foreign leaders and policy observers had believed the aforementioned would be capable of initiating slow but controlled changes within the regime. Reminiscent of Soviet Stalinism, the Castro brothers’ latest action demonstrates that the regime is incapable of transforming itself.

2. DO Maintain Human Rights & Democracy as the Cornerstone of U.S. Policy

U.S. policy towards Cuba should remain focused on supporting the Cuban people in their struggle for fundamental freedoms and democratic change. It’s imperative for U.S. policymakers and diplomats to stress the unconditional release of all Cuban political prisoners; the recognition and respect for the human, civil and political rights of the Cuban people; and the development of a pathway towards internationally supervised free and democratic elections.

3. DON’T Bet on Raul Castro Being the Pragmatic Reformer

Despite overwhelming expectations, Raul Castro’s first year as Cuba’s official leader, and previous two years as “de facto” leader, demonstrate a stubborn unwillingness to undertake any significant steps towards political and economic liberalization.

4. DO Support the Inter-American Democratic Charter as a Roadmap

At the upcoming 5th Summit of the Americas (“Summit”) and thereafter, U.S. diplomatic initiatives should focus on the need to ensure that Cuba commits to and adheres to the principles of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (“Charter”), which highlights the region’s commitment to representative democracy and was signed in 2001 by 34 out of the 35 nations in the Western Hemisphere. President Obama and U.S. allies in the region should seek a consensus at the Summit and at the Organization of American States (“OAS”) firmly establishing the Charter as the roadmap for Cuba’s official reintegration into the inter-American system. The OAS and the Summit process should develop a strategic plan to assist Cuba in this process.

5. DO Support a Transformative Dialogue Amongst Cubans

The Administration should focus its support on a potentially transformative dialogue between the Cuban authorities and all sectors of Cuban civil society, including the island’s pro-democracy movement. Unfortunately, dialogue focused on the U.S. and Cuban governments will not alter conditions on the ground for the Cuban people

6. DO Increase Support for Cuba’s Pro-Democracy Movement & Civil Society

Since the 1990s, Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society has grown exponentially and demonstrated tremendous resiliency. In closed societies, where the State exercises all political, economic and social control, from employment to information, it is extremely difficult for civil society to communicate amongst itself, much less organize. Simply compare the relative strength of civil societies in Burma or Belarus to those in North Korea in order to understand the significance of international support. For Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society to have the tools necessary to effectively make its case to the Cuban people, increased assistance, support and solidarity from the U.S. and the international community is necessary. The U.S. should particularly work in conjunction with the governments and non-governmental organizations (“NGO’s”) of former communist countries in Eastern Europe to develop a “toolbox” of democratic transition experiences that they can share with Cuba’s pro-democracy leaders.

7. DO Encourage the Use of Technology

The U.S. has been an advocate for global internet freedom. Nothing in current U.S. law prohibits transactions intended to provide internet connectivity to the Cuban people. The Administration should use the existing authority to issue specific licenses to U.S. carriers wishing to provide service to Cuba, as long as a fair market price is negotiated and the transaction benefits the Cuban people. Moreover, the Administration should eliminate license requirements for NGOs working to provide everyday technology, such as cell phones, DVDs, camcorders, computers, flash drives and printers, to support civil society. The Administration should also provide a general license for U.S. relatives of Cuban nationals to pay for the internet and satellite services of their family in Cuba, as well as to send them applicable technological equipment.

8. DO Diplomatically Engage the International Community

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should immediately reach out to Central and Eastern European nations, other EU Members, and Latin American allies to discuss a strategy that promotes solidarity for Cuba’s pro-democracy movement and civil society, while simultaneously pressing for economic and political reforms that pursue a pathway towards democratic change. EU Common Policy and the U.S./EU Summit Declarations provide a good framework to build upon.

9. DO Use Sanctions as Leverage for Change

Sanctions are an important tool of leverage for democratic change, particularly in a post-Castro era. In the interim, sanctions have the effect of denying funds to the Cuban regime’s repressive apparatus, which it would otherwise use to exert further economic and political control over the Cuban people.

10. DO Challenge the Regime to Repeal 20% Charge on Remittances

The Administration should challenge the regime to stop exploiting Cuban families and repeal Cuban laws that confiscate 20% of every dollar a U.S. relative sends to the island. Ending this profiteering would yield genuine practical effects on how much assistance Cuban families effectively receive. Cuban families already have to convert their U.S. dollars to a Cuban Convertible Peso (“CUC”), at which time the Cuban regime charges a 10% exchange fee. Therefore, the Cuban authorities immediately take 30% of every U.S. dollar that enters the island.

11. DON’T Allow Unlimited Remittances to Foment Segregation and Disparities

Unlimited remittances to the island risks dividing Cuba's democratic opposition, pitting Cubans with relatives in the United States against Cubans with no relatives living abroad. Many early exiles living in the United States today are white and have prospered. Much of Cuba's population today and many of the courageous leaders of the democratic opposition to the Cuban regime are of African or mixed-race descent; and they do not have relatives in the United States. Even with the current monetary limitations of $300 per quarter, white Cubans receive up to 250 percent more in remittances from family abroad than their Afro-Cuban compatriots. Growing income disparities may in turn become a stumbling block upon future efforts for “national reconciliation” amongst all Cubans, regardless of race, whether they remained on the island or in exile abroad.

12. Don’t Allow Unlimited Cuban-American Travel to Subsidize the Regime

The Administration should clarify family travel regulations to prevent “unlimited” lengths of stay, which only risks channeling U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Cuban regime. Allowing U.S. retirees, to, in effect, permanently relocate to Cuba under the guise of family travel and receive their Supplementary Security Income would undermine all sanctions and allow the regime to directly take 20% of those taxpayer funded checks.

13. DO Support Greater Flows of Information to Cuba

While the Berman Amendment exempts informational material from the scope of U.S. sanctions, the Cuban regime insists on its absolute control over information. Cuba continues to rebuff U.S. efforts to establish regular postal mail service between the two nations. The Administration should reinitiate efforts to establish regular mail service with Cuba. The U.S. should also consider other ways to increase the flow of information to the island, such as airborne broadcasts in international waters and support for TV and radio satellite receivers and subscriptions. An independent Board on Cuba Broadcasting should be overhauled and reinvigorated to enhance the quality of programming for Radio and TV Marti. Furthermore, the Administration should take all necessary steps to help achieve third country broadcasting into the more extreme and isolated parts of Cuba.

14. DO Support Direct Humanitarian Assistance to the Cuban People

The U.S. is currently the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the island and its principal food supplier. Last year, the U.S. even offered more than $6 million in unconditional disaster relief directly to the Cuban regime after the devastating effects on Hurricanes Ike and Gustav, and offered to send a Disaster Assessment Relief Team that would have ultimately generate millions more in U.S. assistance. The rejection of this offer demonstrated the regime’s complete disregard for the well being of the Cuban people and the need to find creative ways to channel support through NGOs and private relief groups. The U.S. must be careful that any humanitarian assistance is not used as a political tool to reward regime loyalists and/or punish non-conformists.

15. DON’T Allow Exploitation of Educational, Religious, & Humanitarian Travel

The U.S. should support travel to the island for educational and humanitarian purposes that genuinely forge substantial contact between U.S. and Cuban citizens. Unfortunately, educational, religious, and humanitarian travel to the island is all-too-often used as a guise for tourist travel. Principled travel should not become a loophole to circumvent sanctions.

16. DO Support Programs Facilitating Training and University Studies Abroad

The U.S. should support discrete programs that facilitate professional training and university studies abroad for Cuban students. The U.S. should support efforts by formerly totalitarian countries and those undergoing democratic transitions to attract Cuban students to their university programs.

17. DO Support Reciprocal Diplomatic Measures Affecting USINT

U.S. Interests Section (“USINT”) diplomats in Havana should enjoy the same rights and restrictions as Cuban Interests Section diplomats in Washington, D.C. The U.S. should challenge the regime to allow U.S. diplomats in Cuba to travel freely within the island, interact with Cuban citizens, conduct their own hiring of USINT personnel and purchasing, and end all interference with USINT facilities, including the diplomatic pouch.

18. DON’T Allow U.S. Taxpayers to Subsidize the Regime

The Administration should reject attempts to alter regulations governing agricultural purchases, the “cash-in-advance” rules, which would have the effect of indirectly financing Cuban government purchases. Similarly, allowing private credit for the bankrupt Cuban regime would place U.S. taxpayers in the position of bailout agent for U.S. banks and agricultural when the Cuban government defaults on its commitments, as it consistently has with all other international debtors.

19. DON’T Politicize the State-Sponsors of Terrorism List

The Bush Administration’s failed negotiations with North Korea demonstrate the folly of using the state-sponsor of terrorism list as a negotiation tool to improve relations with rogue nations. Instead, Cuba should be required to take the actions necessary to be removed from the list, such as resolving all acts of state terrorism against American citizens and returning all of the fugitives from U.S. justice it is harboring. Furthermore, before any delisting of Cuba is contemplated, the Cuban regime must make full restitution and compensation to the families of the victims of the shot-down Brothers to the Rescue planes in 1996, which resulted in the murder of three American citizens over international waters.

20. DO Consider Revising U.S. Migration Policy

U.S. migration policy towards Cuba, including wet foot/dry foot, should be reviewed to ensure that political refugees are treated properly and that family reunification is prioritized. Under the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans picked up at sea and found to have a well-founded fear of persecution are sent to Guantanamo Bay for years-on-end until a third country decides accept them. Ultimately, the U.S. should aim to close all refugee camps in Guantanamo and develop a more credible process to ensure that all migrants picked up at sea or on land get a genuine interview, evaluating their particular circumstances to determine if they have a well-founded fear. Cubans that reach U.S. soil are permitted to stay in the U.S. and adjust their legal status pursuant to the Cuban Adjustment Act (“CAA”). Although the reasons that led Congress in 1966 to pass CAA have not fundamentally changed, sharp increases in Cuban American travel to the island will raise questions concerning the Act’s continued viability. With respect to the 1994 Migration Accords (“Accords”) negotiated by Clinton Administration, the Cuban regime has failed to fully implement their commitments. The regime continues to persecute Cuban citizens that attempt to flee the island; they deny USINT personnel access to migrants after repatriation; and they fail to issue exit permits for Cuban citizens that have been given visas by USINT to migrate to the U.S. The U.S. should express its intention to withhold its commitment to issue 20,000 yearly visas until the Cuban regime complies with the Accords.

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