GUEST EDITORIAL: Cuban travel limits hit wrong target
Since the U.S. government opened up travel to Cuba, cruises have become one of the most popular ways to visit the island. Cruise ships brought nearly 143,000 travelers there in the just the first four months of 2019, a more than 300% increase from the same period last year, according to the Associated Press.
Such visitors had provided an economic lifeline for the Cuban people. As the Miami Herald reported, nearly half a million Cubans now work for themselves or own private businesses that allow them to increase their incomes and gain independence from the country’s communist government.
But now U.S. travel to Cuba has been severely limited. This month, the Trump administration banned cruises and a heavily used category of educational travel to Cuba.
The changes were billed as ways to cut off cash to the island’s government and punish it for its support of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Yet like previous U.S. policy toward Cuba for much of the past six decades, it will more likely harm the Cuban people.
After Fidel Castro took power in the Cuban revolution, the U.S. government placed an economic embargo on Cuba that was extended to include most exports by 1962. Restrictions on trade and travel remained over the decades, but failed to topple the Castro regime.
Former President Barack Obama tried a different approach by reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and loosening restrictions. Cruises resumed trips there in May 2016, with the ships departing from Florida locations including Port Canaveral, Tampa and Miami.
Those cruises were abruptly cancelled following the Trump administration’s decision. The administration also closed off other U.S. tourism to Cuba under an exemption for educational travel.
The Trump administration previously placed sanctions against Cuba in a bid to pressure its government to end support for Maduro. Trump national security advisor John Bolton has called for regime change in Venezuela, suggesting that military action is an option.
The history of U.S. support for regime change in recent decades should give pause to anyone wishing to avoid another costly foreign entanglement with unintended consequences. The Cuban and Venezuelan governments are certainly guilty of human-rights abuses, but such abuses haven’t seemed to stop the United States from improving relations with North Korea, maintaining trade with China or selling arms to Saudi Arabia.
It makes little sense that U.S. citizens can travel almost anywhere but Cuba, which is only about 90 miles away from Key West. The Trump administration’s approach seems more like an attempt to win votes from the Cuban exile community in Florida than a well-planned way to cause change in Cuba.
Fidel Castro outlasted nine U.S. presidents and his brother remains chief of the Cuban Communist Party. The U.S. economic embargo only gave them an excuse for poor conditions on the island, and continues to do so.
This editorial originally appeared in the Gainesville Sun, a News Herald sister paper with GateHouse Media.