Friday, February 27, 2009

Herald Editorial on Family Travel and Obama

Miami Herald Editorial
Posted on Fri, Feb. 27, 2009
Lift restrictions on travel to Cuba

Lawmakers in Washington are showing once again how difficult it is to change U.S. policy toward Cuba in meaningful ways. The latest legislative proposal moving through Congress would kill enforcement of regulations that restrict travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans. This is an objective we have long championed, but Congress has picked the worst way to go about it -- making it impossible to enforce existing regulations without tackling the regulations themselves.

Backroom deal

The proposal, which also eases other travel and economic restrictions in smaller ways, is included in a huge budget bill passed by the House and headed to the Senate. Unfortunately, the provisions affecting Cuba policy are the result of a backroom deal that circumvented a full debate on the issue. On their own, as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, noted, the travel measures wouldn't win majority approval. This legislative gimmick ensures that Cuba policy will remain the target of efforts to tinker around the edges, at the expense of thoughtful change.

Instead, we recommend as a first step that President Barack Obama fulfill the promise he made in an Other Views column published in The Miami Herald on Aug. 21, 2007: ``I will grant Cuban Americans unrestricted rights to visit family and send remittances to the island.''

The existing restrictions do little to advance the cause of freedom for Cuba, but they place an unfair burden on Cuban Americans who want to see their friends and families and ease their hardship. From both a humanitarian and strategic viewpoint, they have little justification.

Mr. Obama has other things on his mind, of course, but we suggest he act soon, before he attends the summit of Western Hemisphere heads of government in Trinidad in April. Differences with our neighbors in Latin America over U.S. policy toward Cuba have long been an irritant, and Mr. Obama can send a signal that he is moving to meet some of the objections by carrying out his promise to ease travel and remittance limitations.

Negotiated concessions

Undoubtedly, that won't be enough for critics, who believe the trade embargo that has been in place for nearly half a century should be eliminated. We don't agree. The embargo, by itself, may not oblige the Cuban government to move toward political change, but it should not be surrendered without meaningful, negotiated concessions.

Mr. Obama himself seemed to refer to that in 2007 when he pledged to ''hold on to important inducements'' even as he conducted ''aggressive and principled diplomacy'' with Cuba. It sounded good in 2007 and sounds good today, but it's time to move from words to action.


Letter to the editor

The Herald is right. The use of Presidential authority to enable Cuban American travel is urgent and essential for the most fundamental humanitarian reasons--and because candidate Obama and the Democratic platform promised to do it upon taking office!

However, that action does little for the President at the Summit of the Americas and with most people in this country who may feel discriminated against.

Obama will gain credibility with both hemispheric and domestic audiences if he uses his authority to provide general licenses for all twelve categories of non-tourist people-to-people travel. They include family, educational, religious, humanitarian, cultural, sports, and support for the Cuban people.

John McAuliff
Executive Director
Fund for Reconciliation and Development
Dobbs Ferry, NY