Friday, March 30, 2012

Leading Florida Newspaper Calls for End of Travel Ban

South Florida

Lift Cuba travel ban

March 30, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI concluded his three-day visit to Cuba with a call for "change" on the island, which gratifyingly elicited chants of libertad, or freedom, after the Wednesday mass in Havana concluded.

The pope pressed for greater room and space for Cuba's Catholic Church, including asking that the Castro regime declare Good Friday a holiday. Cuba's Catholic institutions clearly benefited from a 1998 papal visit by John Paul II, and it's expected the faithful will also gain more room to worship from Benedict's support.

Whether Cuba's secular pro-democracy activists have reason to expect the papal visit will generate more freedom for them is another matter. The pope didn't meet with dissidents or the Ladies in White movement, and there were reports of stepped up arrests and detentions of opposition members.

The pope made time for Cuba's erstwhile dictator, Fidel Castro, who among other things, asked Benedict what a pope does. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall of that encounter.
There might be some left disappointed the pope did not condemn Cuba's dictatorship in harsher terms, or offer, in person, support for dissidents and the regime's opponents. Those aspirations, however, were unrealistic.

From the start, Pope Benedict XVI's purpose was to bolster the standing of Cuba's Catholic Church. That in itself is a significant challenge.

Decades of repression and government-imposed atheism have eroded the Church's standing. Catholics are now a small percentage of the island's population.

We hoped he would make a case for secular-based freedoms, and he did. But it would have been an extremely difficult feat for the pontiff to have prodded for greater religious acceptance while also uttering even stronger and overt political themes.

Now, going forward, those who advocate for a transition to democracy in Cuba — and we are among those — must understand and accept that process requires a different strategy, different tools.

For decades, pro-democracy advocates, including South Florida Cuban Americans, have looked to a parade of world leaders and dignitaries to travel to Cuba and talk sense to the Castro brothers. It's time to seek a course correction of sorts.

What's a better idea? Rely more on people, and less on world leaders.

We will again argue, as we have in the past, that the United States should lift its travel bans so that U.S.-Cuba travel is as accessible as travel is to the majority of countries in the hemisphere. We have argued, and will do so again, that lifting the travel ban would, over time, break the isolation of Cuba's citizenry and lessen its dependency on the Castros' regime.

Few policies serve the Castro brothers' interest, and the interest of their dictatorship, better than the travel ban.


My comment:

In summarizing the Pope's message, you neglected his call for an end to the embargo:

"May no one feel excluded from taking up this exciting task because of limitations of his or her basic freedoms, or excused by indolence or lack of material resources, a situation which is worsened when restrictive economic measures, imposed from outside the country, unfairly burden its people."

Regarding ending travel restrictions, you are 100% correct but the Cuban American caucus will bitterly fight against any and all travel because it undermines their propaganda.

Unfortunately action by Congress is required to end travel restrictions which can't happen unless the Democrats control both Houses of Congress, and even then is not certain.

However the President could substantially make Cuba more accessible to average Americans by enabling a general license for all people to people travel.  That would allow self-directed independent travel by families and back-packers who could rent cars, use the public bus and train, and stay in privately owned casas particulares. 

John McAuliff
Fund for Reconciliation and Development

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