Politics

If You Want to Know Just How Stoopid Your Elected Officials Are, Read This Op-Ed on Lifting The Travel Ban to Cuba

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Here's Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida actually trying to argue that the decades-old embargo of Cuba is finally—finally!—about to topple the Castro regime! And why that means we should quintuple down on a really shitty, ineffective policy that has done nothing except prop up one of the longest-lived tyrannies in the New World.

The bill would open up relations with a regime that routinely imprisons journalists and citizens who disagree with their government. This would send mixed messages about our commitment to the brave pro-democracy movement in Cuba.

Lifting the travel ban would inject millions of dollars into the Cuban government at a time when the Castro regime is on the ropes. Cuba's foreign trade declined by a third in the last year, the country is several billion dollars in debt to sovereign lenders, and its economic crisis is putting Castro's rule in jeopardy.

Why would we lift the travel ban and let American tourism dollars prop up the Castro regime? At this juncture, lifting the ban would amount to yet another bailout – only this time, we'd be bailing out a brutal dictatorship on the brink of collapsing.

Whole thing here.

It takes a brave man to sacrifice the actual people of Cuba for his own sense of moral indignation. One of the reasons I came to cherish consistency in political thinking is that I came of age during the great South African college disinvestment craze back in the 1980s. I would have long, boring conversations with people who would argue that any trade with apartheid South Africa was morally abhorrent, even if boycotting the place would hurt the poorest stuck in that country. And that it was equally morally grotesque to ban travel and trade to Cuba because, you know, it hurt the poorest in that country. That was the liberal argument, of course. Right-wingers would argue the opposite mix: No trade for Cuba but we should never pull out of South Africa. (And in case you're wondering: The eventual boycott of South Africa by the U.S. helped extend apartheid, as "isolation breeds contempt, not reform.")

The idea that individuals should make these decisions rather than governments was generally not on the table for discussion. One need not travel all the way down what Ronnie Raygun used to call "constructive engagement" to realize that increasing trade and contact with repressive regimes tends to undermine them. The Castro Bros. have been on the ropes longer than Gerry Cooney; I think it's well past time to knock them out of the ring for good by flooding the freaking country with American dollars, people, and values.

And if you don't trust me, here's a GOP congressman who is quite eloquent on the subject ("the default should be freedom"). Take it away, Rep. Jeff Flake:

NEXT: Reason Writers Around Town: Nick Gillespie on The Lessons of L'Affaire Weigel & Just Who The Hell is a Libertarian Anyway?

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  1. I think there is a case to be made that the travel ban ought to be lifted for Americans’ sake. People ought to have a right to travel where they please. But, don’t kid yourself into thinking lifting the ban will do a damn thing for Cuba. Europeans and Canadians have been traveling there by the thousands for decades and the place is worse now than it ever was. This whole idea that we will overwhelm them with money and numbers and freedom is a myth. They will just take our money and use it to further oppress the living hell out of everyone on the island.

    I agree with you that the travel ban should be lifted. But don’t oversell the effects of lifting it.

    1. I disagree, American trade is an existential threat to Castro’s brand of repression. I wouldn’t be surprised if they self-embargoed from U.S. trade once the ban was lifted.

      Political liberalization often follows economic.

      1. Albeit slow at times…

      2. Until someone can explain to me how open trade and travel with Europe has further weakened the Castro regime, then you can’t claim that doing the same with the US will have the intended effect.

        I agree that I wouldn’t mind flying to Cuba, but if the ultimate goal is freedom for Cubans, then giving the regime more chances to confiscate Yanqui dollars is only going to extend the life of the regime itself.

        1. Let me turn that around and ask: what evidence exists than sanctions will have any effect in terms of removing the regime? The Norks are even poorer and more isolated but the Commie nutjobs are still in power.

          Europe and Canada are far away. American trade would swamp them with our goods, esp cheap food. In fact, they would probably have to impose massive tariffs (i.e. self-embargo) to avoid driving inefficient state-run locals out of business entirely.

          1. what evidence exists than sanctions will have any effect in terms of removing the regime?

            This was listed below, but Mary O’Grady’s column is worth reading to answer your question.

            http://online.wsj.com/article/the_americas.html

            From the article- “The dictatorship is hard up for hard currency. The regime now relies heavily on such measures as sending Cuban doctors to Venezuela in exchange for marked-down oil. But according to a recent Associated Press story, “Cuba’s foreign trade plunged by more than a third in 2009,” perhaps because Caracas, running out of money itself, is no longer a reliable sugar daddy. A sharp drop in nickel prices hasn’t helped, and neither did three hurricanes in 2008, which devastated housing.

            Cuba owes sovereign lenders billions of dollars, according to the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, and according to a June 23 Reuters report, it is so cash-strapped that it had “froze[n] up to $1 billion in the accounts of 600 foreign suppliers by the start of 2009.”

            The regime is not in good shape. Allowing Yanqui dollars in now would allow the regime to be resuscitated by confiscating all of those Yanqui dollars that would come with the tourists. I understand that ultimately the goal should be to improve the lives of Cubans, but the reality is that until the regime is gone, that ain’t gonna happen. And lifting the ban now, when the regime is truly unstable and economically insecure, would defeat any of the benefits that the ban has created since its inception.

            There is no reason to believe that an influx of Yanqui tourist money will ever end up in the hands of Cubans instead of in the coffers of the regime. Indeed, there is every reason to believe that an increase in tourist cash would in fact help the regime stabilize.

  2. a really shitty, ineffective policy that has done nothing except prop up one of the longest-lived tyrannies in the New World

    Not buying it. The rest of the world trades with Cuba. One could make the argument that they have propped up the Castro regime. Not that free Americans should not be able to make their own travel choices.

    1. A better argument is that the embargo gives the Castro regime a handy excuse for why the country is going to hell in a handbasket. It’s a poor excuse as you’ve noted, but “It’s all the Yanqui’s fault” has a lot of traction in Latin America and US Castro apologists.

      1. It’s a poor excuse as you’ve noted, but “It’s all the Yanqui’s fault” has a lot of traction in Latin America and US Castro apologists.

        Even though those awful Yanquis can be faulted both for trading with some Latin American countries and for not trading with Cuba.

        The US is a more natural trading partner for Cuba than other countries, due to geography, so the US embargo has some effect. Getting rid of it wouldn’t dramatically change things one way or the other, though I’m for getting rid of the travel ban and the trade embargo.

  3. How long have we been hearing how free trade and such was going to make China into a free country? Thirty years now? Yeah it is better now than it was under Mao. But it is still horrible. And the only ways that it is better are the ways necessary to make the corrupt bastards who run the place rich.

    1. I think you may be underselling the effects of economic liberalization in China. Yea, a lot of the country is in shitty conditions, but so is most of the non-Western (non-white) world.

      Some commentator once called Deng Xiaoping the “greatest leader of the 20th century” for his market reforms and his defiance of the Maoists in the vacuum after Mao’s death. Perhaps farther than I would have gone, but he has a point. Politically, the citizens are hardly “free,” but they are no longer being executed/tortured/worked to death in mass numbers either.

      1. China reportedly sports a middle class population well in excess of 300 million – larger than the population of the entire United States. As this population grows and ages, people years removed from hardship will begin to expect greater freedoms. With students studying abroad in great numbers and expatriates returning in large numbers the pressure to liberalize over time will be substantial.

        They have proven to be much more adept at maintaining totalitarian rule than I would have ever expected back in 1990, but I still can’t imagine the power structure remaining this rigid for another 50 years. Things are evolving too rapidly and yuppie CEO’s driving Porsche convertibles will eventually want a piece of the power pie.

        1. They still routinely execute people with little or no due process. They jail people for decades for the crime of holding the wrong political opinion. Yeah, it is not a terror state like it was. But it is still horrible. And I will believe they will give up control when I see it.

        2. Freedom House scores China a
          7 (out of 7, 1 is best, 7 worst) on political rights and 6 on civil liberties.

          They are marginally better than Cuba.

          1. And by “marginally better” I mean the exact same scores. Cuba has moved up from a 7,7 in the last 2 years.

            1. And for fun, comparative subcategory scores (max in parenthesis, higher is good this time around) in 2009:

              Electoral Process (12) China 0, Cuba 0
              Political Participation (16) China 1, Cuba 0
              Functioning of Government (12) China 1, Cuba 1
              —-
              Freedom of Expression and Belief (16) China 3, Cuba 2
              Associational and Org Rights (12) China 2, Cuba 1
              Rule of Law (16) China 2, Cuba 2
              Personal Autonomy and Ind Rights (16) China 7, Cuba 3

              1. China 14/60 on civil liberties, Cuba 8/60. China is probably “best” 6 and Cuba “worst” 6. Either way, a 6 is damn bad.

                1. Finally, for comparison, USA scores:

                  11,16,11
                  16,11,14,15

        3. China reportedly sports a middle class population well in excess of 300 million – larger than the population of the entire United States.

          Ha, I would bet it’s more like a tenth of that.

          China is still a very, very poor country by our standards. The hinterlands are practically Paleolithic.

  4. The travel ban has only been effective against those Americans unwilling to get a connecting flight in Mexico or Canada.

    If one really wants to go there, it is not even remotely difficult.

    1. What if you live nearby and want to travel in your boat?

      1. Target practice for The People’s Air Force.

      2. This is somewhat dated:

        http://findarticles.com/p/arti….._n8706196/

        It seems boat travel is no prob… Just don’t spend money there or bring anything back.

      3. @SIV As a former long-term resident of Miami, I remember several TV news (local) showing Americans actually living on their boats in Cuba.

        And there was some sort of Regatta from Tampa to Havana a few years back.

        Apparently, the U.S. government is not real serious about small-scale cross-straits traffic. They may fear a court case. Cuba welcomes hard currency, and the ordinary citizens love it, though I’m not sure of the status of ordinary citizens as far as being able to shop in the dollar (denominated) stores.

        As far as the main point of this post: I wouldn’t go…but anyone who wishes to should be able.

    2. And the Treasury Dept will eventually fuck your shit up if they can prove you’ve been there without a permit.

      There’s a reason why we didn’t get perfect scores on some of those “freedom tests” above.

  5. hmmm: trade woes, billions in debt, economic crisis… sounds familiar!

  6. I don’t need to travel to Cuba. I would be happy if I could just go to a cigar shop in the States and pick up some Cohibas.

    1. I am told they are not what they used to be. Like everything else, Castro fucked that up to.

      1. Dominican smokes are just as good, if not better.

        1. Yep. All the Cuban planters went to the DR. It took a few decades to get the product up to Cuban standards, but now it is better than what Cuba puts out.

          Apparently people who know what they are doing is the most important thing. Huh, imagine that.

          Note: Dont smoke, so this is based on others’ opinions. Oddly, I love the smell of a good cigar, so dont mind being around it, just dont smoke ANYTHING myself.

          1. About 20 years ago I had a couple of good cuban cigars while in Mexico. They are still the best I’ve ever had.

            Interesting side note: It doesn’t matter how good the cigar is when you buy it – if you leave it in the front pocket of your suitcase for a year after coming back from Mexico it will be absolute shit when you try to smoke it. I learned that one the hard way….

            1. The DR has the best rollers in the world, but I just don’t like the tobacco all that much. Cuban tobacco has a peppery flavor that no one else can produce. The quality control is lacking at times, but has gotten much better since the cigar craze of the 90’s ended.

              IMHO, Nicaraguan tobacco tastes the closest to Cuban tobacco. Much better than Dominican.

  7. How about if we just ship all the Cuban refugees in the USA back to Cuba. Cuba won’t have enough prisons to keep all of them and the regime will collapse

    1. Cuba won’t have enough prisons to keep all of them and the regime will collapse

      Bullets are cheap, my friend. Bullets are cheap.

    2. As long as I have enough municiones, cabr?n. Death to traitors!

      ?Viva la revoluci?n! ?Viva Fid?l!

    3. The housing crisis in Miami isn’t bad enough?

  8. It takes a brave man to sacrifice the actual people of Cuba for his own sense of moral indignation.

    The idea that individuals should make these decisions rather than governments was generally not on the table for discussion.

    Hmmm….I guess Im a brave man.

    I oppose the ban, but the reason I personally wont go to Cuba after the ban is lifted is for the exact same reason the ban is in place.

  9. Its pretty clear that your average Politician is about as dumb as a box of rocks.

    Lou
    http://www.real-anonymity.se.tc

    1. Your insights are delightful

  10. You do not need to lift the travel ban to Cuba. There are still plenty of excellent condition Chevy Bel Airs at auto shows in the United States for you to drool over.

    1. And the ones here aren’t rusted out, with bits of engine repaired with whatever metal they could scrounge.

  11. drug war, cuba, middle east, racial prefernce, why can’t this country get over the 1960s?

    1. It was just too groovy?

  12. Jeff Flake is intelligent, principled and, most importantly, hot.

    There are, as far as I know, only two truly hot Senators right now, and they’re both libertarian-leaning Republicans.

    1. Olympia Snowe is hot!

  13. Anastasia O’Grady of the WSJ also had a similar column yesterday:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/the_americas.html

  14. This was one of the issues that converted me from conservatism to libertarianism. There’s no reason to think Castro’s brand of repression can survive free trade; at worst, they would be something like China is today. This policy hasn’t made sense for at least 20 years, if ever.

    1. It survived trading with Canada and Europe. And as pointed out above, China trades a lot more the Cuba and still are repressive and awful. I wish you were right. But I think you are kidding yourself.

      1. Europe and Canada are far away. American trade would swamp them with our goods. In fact, they would probably have to impose massive tariffs (i.e. self-embargo) to avoid driving locals out of business entirely.

        China is much, much less awful than it was pre-liberalization. For one thing, it’s people aren’t living in grinding Third World poverty. For another, the government isn’t killing tens of millions of them.

        If not for trade and the requisite economic liberalization, China would look like North Korea today.

    2. And not trading with them killed off the Apartheid South Africa government. So it can work.

      1. South Africa had a government in which leaders were at least beholden to country’s white minority. This is not the case in Cuba and other totalitarian regimes, where the leaders are insulated and the last to suffer.

        Frankly, even if lifting the embargo and travel ban doesn’t make even one tiny crack in the Castro regime, who cares? I am more concerned with the well being of the Cuban people, who benefit not at all through such punitive measures. China may still be totalitarian, but at least the people are better off. The embargo and travel ban are inhumanitarian policies.

        We don’t bring the Cuban people one day closer to liberation by further impoverishing them.

  15. I support lifting travel restrictions, but I’m not going to kid myself and think that mobs of tourists heading to Cuban beaches is going to have any effect on the political system.

    For decades, they survived on the economic assistance of the Soviet Union. After the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe, it was only opening up a small amount of free market activity that allowed them to avoid starvation during the special period until their ideological associate Hugo Chavez began sending aid in the late 1990’s.

    Freedom for Cuba can depend only on slow change out of the Castro legacy until a Gorbachev-like figure emerges. Even then, the specter of socialism will hang over it for decades, and may occasionally infect the political system (see Nicaragua AND Daniel Ortega).

  16. Somebody correct me if I am wrong, but the rationale for the original ban (Kennedy) wasn’t for the regime to collapse, it was to punish them for getting too close to the Soviets.

    Then the Cuban ex-pat community in Florida, justifiably aggrieved for losing property and fortunes during the revolution, decided they liked the whole shitty thing as a stick in the eye to Castro and used their voting power in a swing state to keep the policy in place.

    And now it’s officially become an “incentive” for the regime to liberalize. Right.

    I have no fucking idea whether the sanctions are a good idea or not, but they’re obviously not working, either, so why not just open the damn thing up and quit limiting the choices and freedoms of Americans and try something different for a change? I think 50 years is long enough to make that realization. Fucking politicians.

  17. I understand that ultimately the goal should be to improve the lives of Cubans, but the reality is that until the regime is gone, that ain’t gonna happen.

    When you’ve been trying the same fucking thing over and over for a half century, and it has not succeeded, you have to consider the possibility that continuing that course of action will continue to get the same results.

    So, you’re willing to prevent something that will make actual Cubans and Americans both better off, on the off chance that a failed policy will finally work?

    Do you know why the North Korean government prevents American tourists from visiting that country and freely talking and trading with the citizens?

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