Havana One-Ups Washington on Travel

Can Obama and Romney Avoid the Issue?


By John McAuliff *

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s welcome announcement of the end of the exit visa travel restriction poses two challenges to the Obama Administration:

1) Political: Cuba is giving its citizens more freedom to travel to the US than the US gives its citizens to travel to Cuba. The White House should respond by using its power to allow all non tourist travel to Cuba without applying for a license, our equivalent of the White Card. It must also press Congress to abolish all travel restrictions.

2) Legal: The Cuban Adjustment Act and wet foot dry foot policy must be suspended and repealed. With Cubans free to travel to Mexico and Canada, ‘step across the border’ economic migration will become a bigger problem.

I wonder whether this increases the likelihood of Cuba coming up during next Monday’s Presidential debate in Florida on foreign policy .

A general question will produce similar anti-regime boilerplate from both candidates.  The glaring contrast is on travel .

President Obama authorized unrestricted travel and remittances  for Cuban Americans and opened limited people to people travel for the rest of us.

Governor Romney promised Cuban American Republicans that he will return to harsh Bush restrictions on travel, once every three years for Cuban Americans, and very limited remittances, plus the end of people to people and short term student travel.

Romney’s representatives tried to etch-a-sketch travel in the Republican platform because a harsh position will cost him votes among Cuban Americans, 25 % of whom visited their homeland last year. However the hard liners didn’t let him get away with it as reported by the Miami Herald.

“However there is one possible omission: The [Republican] platform doesn’t explicitly call for reversing the executive decision of President Obama that allowed for more travel to Cuba. Romney’s camp, including Cuba-crackdown leader and former Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, says no additional language is needed, in great part because Romney’s campaign notes that he explicitly opposes Obama’s executive decision to loosen travel and remittances to Cuba.”

President Obama would have been in an ambiguous position if his Administration and Congressional staff had not broken the log jam on renewal of people to people licenses.

Presumably the Office of Foreign Assets Control was reminded it was working for the White House not for Senator Marco Rubio who had boasted of his success in sabotaging the President’s signature breakthrough.

Months of politically motivated bureaucratic nitpicking seemed to have come to an end when Insight Cuba finally got its renewal.

My organization, the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, even received its people to people license after six denials.

However, other completely credible organizations have been denied renewal and action is still pending on National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institution.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) is reported to want to get out of the time consuming, staff diverting and image damaging business of judging and regulating the travel of Americans to Cuba.   The President has the power to make that happen.

All non-tourist purposeful travel can receive the same general license as Cuban Americans, universities and religious organizations.  That will give all Americans who want to seriously engage with Cuba the opportunity to choose between organized tours or self directed unsupervised back packing and family trips using public transportation, rental cars and privately owned bed and breakfasts and restaurants.

A petition calling for this straightforward step by the Administration can be found at http://signon.org/sign/remove-bureaucratic-obstacle?source=c.em.cp&r_by=945311
(*) John McMcAuliff chairs the Fund for Reconciliation and Development
(A version of this article also appeared in thehavananote.com)

8 thoughts on “Havana One-Ups Washington on Travel

  • Oh really? Have YOU voted to limit the ‘expenditure of US dollars’ and all the bullshit? Oh right. Why don’t your ‘beliefs as an American’ restrict travel to a REALLY totalitarian regime like Saudi Arabia? Or at least stop murdering people with drones for a change, if you care about ‘human rights’. Hypocrite.

  • The Cuba travel restrictions are championed by anti-Castro hardliners many of them who reside in Florida. The fact that Florida is a state that frequently swings back and forth between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections amplifies the influence of the hardliners. Should Cuba’s decision to remove the requirements for exit permits be genuine, the travel restrictions will increasingly be seen as counter-productive and even hypocritical by a growing number of Americans including Cuban Americans.

  • Your comparison between the US travel restrictions to Cuba and Cuba´s ¨tarjeta blanca¨ is incorrect. The government that I helped to elect in the US has democratically chosen to limit the expenditure of US dollars and therefore travel to a single totalitarian regime whose human rights practices are counter to my beliefs as an American. While you and I may not agree with all of what I just said, the fact is that it is a lawfully-enacted executive order supported by Federal law. Cuba´s exit visa is a restriction imposed by a dictatorship which affects all Cubans who wish to travel ANYWHERE outside of Cuba. This restriction supports no policy nor has intrinsic value on a national or personal level, hence its lifting next year. Big difference…

  • Political pressure from whom? What constituency with any measure of influence in what really goes on in the US gives a rat´s rump about eliminating the Cuban Adjustment Act?

  • Americans too often assume their model and system of freedoms and rights is the apex and pinnacle for the entire world to follow. Elimination of exit visas for Cubans is great and welcomed. Too bad the U.S. now remains one of a couple nations to impose exit visas on its citizens. Such is the state of freedoms so many U.S. youngsters fight and die for in Washington’s myriad wars for democracy around the world. Time for people in the U.S. to wake up and take a clear look at their own diminishing state of rights and freedoms before criticizing others. Groveling before the Treasury Department to get permission to travel to Cuba is demeaning and degrading. OFAC handing out travel licenses to select companies in the U.S. to host and enforce licensed travel to Cuba is simply privatization of an exit visa for Americans. Suffice it to say the privatization of exit visas for private profit – the rights and freedoms of Americans for sale with a hefty price tag. John McAuliff’s consistent position to scrap all restrictions on travel to Cuba for U.S. citizens and residents is the most principled and most consistent with the American dream of freedom and dignity. Anything less is tyranny.

  • As a Canadian, it is a source of continuing fascination that the American public at large – purely as a matter of principle – has allowed a few hardliners in the swingiest of swing states (Florida) to place restrictions on their right to travel to Cuba. I suspect McAuliff’s assessment is correct. If Cuba’s decision to abolish exit permits is genuine, there will be political pressure to both ease remaining travel restrictions on Americans travelling to Cuba as well as a re-think of the wet foot, dry foot policy.

  • I’m sorry to break it to you John, but these tiny window-dressing reforms in Cuba are never going to be big news in the USA. Neither Romney nor Obama will mention it in the debate tonight.

  • John, have you forgotten about Alan Gross? On every occasion of late it has been clearly stated that any improvement in US relations with Cuba will come only after his release. Playing tit for tat with dictators is a dangerous game and generally leads to emboldening the dictator to do worse not better.

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