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Rationale for Cuba embargo strong as ever

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Myriam Marquez
March 20, 2009

Travel agencies that do business with Cuba are about to make a killing.


When the Bush administration limited travel to only once every three years—and then only for direct family—the number of family visits to Cuba fell by half, to 57,000 in 2004. And travel by American academics and business people, which requires U.S. permission, dropped 40 percent.


Cuba lost millions of U.S. dollars—if you trust the regime’s calculations. I’m not so sure it was that big a hit.


We all know somebody who has gone to Cuba through third countries or by joining U.S. church groups that have a license to take people there. The U.S. crackdown on illegal trips was a joke. Most illegal travelers went unnoticed as Cuban officials waved through people with U.S. passports, with the understanding they were not to make trouble.


No trouble—no Cuban stamp on your U.S. passport to give you away.


The travel and remittances restrictions gave the Cuban regime one more excuse to keep blaming Uncle Sam for the misery of a 50-year-old dictatorship. To deny a son the ability to see his sick mother in Cuba because he traveled there the year before or to lock out aunts, uncles and cousins from the designation of “direct family” isn’t smart policy.


The more connections we have to those there—old neighbors included—the more they can make sense of the propaganda that paints a radically different picture of life in a democracy.


Keeping family ties face-to-face is not only the humanitarian thing to do, it engages Cubans at a critical time. Fidel Castro is sick, and his septuagenarian brother Raul is in charge and has put in more hard-liners to run the economy and control the masses. The more we reach out to a younger generation of Cubans to expose the Castro government’s own embargo that restricts Cubans’ ability to travel abroad and to open their own businesses, the better prepared they will be to change their dire reality.


And President Barack Obama’s election offers a rare opportunity to give lie to the Castro brothers’ depiction of a racist America, as if we were still stuck in 1960.


But Obama, whose administration is being pressured to make a big splash on Cuba at an coming conference in Trinidad and Tobago, should not be swayed to lift the embargo or give a green light to American tourists to party like it’s 1959 in Havana.


Let’s not forget why Bush imposed a tougher U.S. policy: Cuba’s Black Spring, when the regime arrested 75 independent librarians, journalists and human-rights activists and handed most of them 20-year sentences. The regime’s response to three black Cubans trying to take a ferry out of Havana Harbor was to kill them by firing squad. Case closed.


About 20 of those jailed have since been put on house arrest or shipped out, but many more are being harassed daily.


The latest appointments of old military men with a smattering of a few younger hard-liners in government ministries is the same old. Nothing has changed.


Congress pushed through a $410 billion spending bill that opened up family visits to once a year. It was an under-handed attempt to open up trade, too, without extracting one ounce of freedoms for Cubans.


Cuba’s regime wants the embargo to end so it can buy on credit. U.S. taxpayers have been socked hard with the global financial crisis. We’re in debt for more than $1 trillion.


Now is not the time to give a green light to a known debtor nation.


Myriam Marquez is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may write to her via e-mail at mmarquez@miamiherald.com.

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