Open Up Travel to Cuba
Fred Burks could have lied, like the more than 20,000
Americans who annually engage in unauthorized travel to Cuba. He didn't,
and his trouble hasn't stopped. Coming back to the U.S. by way of Mexico,
Burks acknowledged that he and his girlfriend had traveled to Cuba. They
both like Cuban music and far-flung travel. Burks speaks four languages
and has worked on contract for the State Department for years, in recent
months translating for President Bush on a trip to Indonesia.
Although the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 does not
directly forbid Americans from traveling to Cuba, it does so indirectly.
It bans spending money there, which before the law's passage had been
forbidden by executive order. In this election year, the White House has
enthusiastically opted to enforce the restrictions as a favor to
conservative Cuban American voters in Florida.
administration says money spent by American tourists fills Fidel Castro's
coffers, propping up his oppressive regime. However, the administration
allows Cuban Americans to send at least $1 billion annually to their
relatives in the island.
Such remittances from the United States
are the No. 1 source of revenue for Cuba. Leading Cuban democracy activist
Oswaldo Paya has welcomed tourists, urging "all foreigners who visit our
country to show solidarity, hold demonstrations and speak out for an
opening in Cuba."
Faced with these contradictions, many Americans
have shrugged and boarded planes to Havana, often from Canada or Mexico.
Out of the 150,000 or so Americans who visit the Caribbean island
annually, about 130,000 are authorized by the U.S. government, including
Cuban Americans, journalists, scientific researchers and people in other,
often flimsy, special categories.
Burks and his girlfriend got
caught and, two years later, the U.S. Treasury Dept. fined them $7,590
each. Unwilling to continue struggling with government bureaucrats, the
woman cut a deal and paid a $1,100 fine. Burks didn't.
Burks is not
alone in wanting to see the 1992 law changed. The House has passed bills
to lift the ban on travel four times. The Senate did so once, last year.
Businesspeople, academics and tourists argue that the policy is
ineffective as well as unfair to U.S. travelers. Cuba's harsh crackdown on
democracy advocates last year understandably slowed pressure to reform
U.S. policy. But in the long term, U.S. citizens who travel to the island
increase the flow of ideas and democratic influence.
Burks and thousands like him play tourist in Havana may not oust Fidel
Castro. But it is certainly more in the spirit of freedom that the United
States ought to embody.
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