Why Didn't Anyone Tell Jimmy?

With much fanfare, Carter ends a travel ban that wasn't.


Ultimate history we cannot have in this generation; but we can dispose of conventional history, and show the point we have reached on the road from one to the other, now that all information is within reach, and every problem has become capable of solution.
—The Cambridge Modern History, 1907.

Jimmy Carter and his merry band of flacks at the State Department seemed ebullient with their sudden revelation in February 1977 that there was no travel ban to Communist Cuba. This initially struck me as strange, because just over 10 years before, the Supreme Court had affirmed a Federal District Court judgment stating the same thing. Being neither a judge, a government bureaucrat, nor a contemporary liberal, I finally deduced that either a conspiracy, a time lag, or an in-power presidential public-relations campaign exists regarding travel to Cuba. I have opted for the latter consideration.

It happens that the Supreme Court ruling is based in most part upon my decision to travel to Castroland in 1963. In that year I happened upon a group of Maoists posing as the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). Because I was working for the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee at the time, I enlisted to be press coordinator for the group of 58 persons that traveled to Cuba that summer.

Our going, I later discovered, was a ploy by Fidel to embarrass the State Department representative who was then meeting with the Organization of American States and calling on all involved to restrict their nationals from traveling to Cuba. My own reason for going was that then, as now, I do not believe that the purpose of government is to restrict the travel of individuals who are perhaps foolish enough to forgo the State Department's sometimes-offered help when traveling abroad.

Cavalier as it may seem to others, I just don't believe it is the obligation of government to keep me out of trouble. So I traveled to Cuba with the vaguest hope that the Department of Justice might indict me for my action. I had done my homework on passport law but didn't know that the Communists were responsible for the trip or that Castro was using it for obvious propaganda purposes. Such are the lessons of youth.

Be this as it may, I was indeed indicted along with three then-members of the Maoist PLP. At the time of our trial I succeeded in having my case severed from theirs because in the intervening two-year period I had joined and then—because we were storing arms and were partially responsible for the Harlem riots in 1964—quit the PLP.

I considered myself a part of the initial judgment, as did the federal judge in his findings. The original indictment reads: The United States of America v. Lee Levi Laub, Phillip Abbott Luce, etc. For economy, the legal system hereafter limits its printing to: United States v. Laub et al.

On April 15, 1966, Judge Zavatt of the District Court of the Eastern District of New York ruled that we held valid passports while traveling to Communist Cuba and had committed no crime. The government appealed the case to the Supreme Court.

Justice Fortas, on January 10, 1967, delivered the opinion of the court, stating in part that, "Crimes are not to be created by inference.…In view of our decision that appellees were charged with conspiracy to violate a nonexistent criminal prohibition, we need not consider other issues which this case presents. Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court is Affirmed."

Upon my return from Cuba in 1963 my passport was stamped "cancelled." After the Supreme Court decision I gained a new passport. Now I can travel wherever I choose, but it strikes me as strange that it took the persons within Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C., this long to travel Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court.

As I continue upon my Ph.D. quest in political "science," I have come to understand the attempts at checks and balances and have even reached the point wherein I can predict the date of the next presidential election. I doubt, however, that I shall ever perceive the logic of announcing a free travel policy when one has existed for 10 years prior to the good old boys and Jody Powell taking power.

Mr. Luce is national chairman of the Truth about Cuba Committee.