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Saturday, Oct 25, 2014
Editorials

Cuba travel a political football

Published:

Legislation in Congress that would limit American travel in Cuba is more about political grandstanding than promoting freedom in that troubled nation.

The measure, which has passed the House Appropriations Committee, would restrict educational travel to Cuba to strictly academic programs.

It would essentially eliminate the “people-to-people” visa that allows American citizens to travel to Cuba to learn about the country, but not necessarily as part of an academic program.

The people-to-people visa was implemented by President Barack Obama in 2011 and has notably increased the number of American visitors to Cuba.

Tampa International Airport now has four to five flights a week to Cuba, depending on the season.

The House legislation seeks to appease political factions, particularly in South Florida, who oppose any thaw in Cuban-American relations. It is unlikely to pass in present form, but expect to see it resurface.

The measure capitalizes on the bad publicity generated by the recent trip to Cuba by Beyonce and Jay-Z, who celebrated their fifth anniversary in Havana. The trip was authorized by the Treasury Department.

But this miscue hardly justifies jettisoning the people-to-people visa, which requires visitors to follow a detailed schedule that includes educational sessions.

Such visits inform Americans and expose Cubans to capitalism and democracy.

Indeed, Cuba has been taking small steps toward private property rights and free enterprise, allowing families to operate restaurants and other businesses, many of which depend on foreign visitors.

The Cuban government, without question, remains oppressive and deceitful — witness how Panamanian officials recently found weapons, including missile launchers, hidden under sugar on a North Korean ship that had just left Cuba.

Such continued antics by the present regime make it difficult to eliminate the embargo and restore normal trade relations, which would benefit both nations.

Still, there is little question the socialist government’s centralized control is eroding, and the United States could hasten that erosion by allowing the Cuban people more interaction with Americans and free enterprise.

If anything, the United States should ease travel restrictions to Cuba, loosening the cumbersome and time-consuming visa process.

Political chest pounding only serves to rob Americans of their travel rights and hamper freedom’s progress in Cuba.

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