Research: Commentary

Lifting the Restrictions on U.S. Travel to Cuba

NY Times, July 12, 2010 | Letter

By Wayne Smith

To the Editor:

In his July 9 letter, James C. Cason, a former chief of the United States Interests Section in Havana, insists that allowing Americans to travel freely to Cuba will not in any way encourage greater openness on the island. I, too, was a chief of the United States Interests Section (1979-82), and have continued to work on and travel to Cuba for many years after that, and I would strongly disagree with Mr. Cason.

Letting Americans travel freely to Cuba will not by some magical gesture bring democracy to Cuba, but it simply stands to reason that the more Americans who are there, the greater impact they can have. We are not talking only of tourists, after all, but of many with an interest in various aspects of Cuban life — sports, theater, history, the arts and many others. The cumulative impact of such contacts can be considerable.

And we now have that letter from more than 70 Cuban dissidents, including some of the more prominent ones, calling on the United States Congress to lift travel controls so that Americans can travel freely to Cuba. They believe that will help bring about change. I’ll go with them rather than Mr. Cason.

Mr. Cason also mentions the 52 prisoners the Cuban government now says it will release and urges that the United States not lift travel controls until all political prisoners have been freed. But I would note that that will not help in any way to bring about their freedom. The 52 are being freed because the Spanish government and the Catholic Church entered into a dialogue with the Cuban government to bring that about. If they had followed the American pattern of refusing to engage, there would be no prisoner release at all.

The United States should indeed lift travel controls and should begin a meaningful dialogue with the Cuban government, which it has not yet done. Its approach has so far been a disappointment and has achieved little. Let us hope for something more imaginative — and effective.

Wayne S. Smith
Senior Fellow
Center for International Policy
Washington, July 9, 2010

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