The United States Congress has achieved an extraordinary breakthrough. In a vote aimed at eliminating the funding to enforce the travel ban to Cuba, the legislators essentially agreed to allow Americans to travel there. Rep. William Delahunt (D-MA) summed up the key point of the action when he said that promoting a people-to-people kind of plan actually encourages democracy by opening Cuba to outside influences. "It introduces different ideas, exchanges of information, a rebuilding of a climate of trust," Delahunt said.
The votes in both the Senate and the House of Representatives were quite impressive. The Senate vote was 59-36 and the House vote was 227-188. While the ban would not technically be lifted, the House and Senate each added amendments to appropriation bills for the Treasury and Transportation departments, prohibiting the spending of any monies to enforce the travel ban. President Bush, however, has already announced that he would veto any bill that diminishes any of the restrictions on Cuba, including the travel ban.
But we believe it is important to note something. The congressional votes highlight a reality in the United States: most Americans want the travel ban lifted. They don't understand the justification for keeping Cuba isolated. They believe that opening the doors to Cuba will speed change there. And they want the opportunity to visit a place that has excited them because of the romantic stories associated with the island.
We have always believed that the trade embargo imposed on Cuba was an anachronism, a relic of the Cold War against the former Soviet Union that has lost its relevance. For 40 years, the United States has tried to force change in Cuba by isolating it in the world community and prohibiting Americans from having any contact with the island. The policy has failed. If anything, the U.S. intransigence has given Cuban President Fidel Castro the pretext to blame his internal problems on the United States, and has actually slowed down any significant change in Cuba.
We support democratic changes in Cuba. We do believe that all nations should observe the basic human rights of its citizens, and that includes giving them a free voice to choose their government.
However, in the United States, there are groups, primarily Cuban-American exiles, who want only one thing -- the removal of Fidel Castro from power. They insist on that event as a precondition for any loosening of the restrictions on the island nation. Their position only hurts the Cuban people, and denies America its most potent weapons that have produced change around the world: the power of our market economy and the American people's passionate belief in freedom for all.
The actions of Congress finally raise the possibility that the U.S. government can adopt a more open and modern approach to its relations with Cuba. By opening up the doors, Cuba will be forced to deal with us, and in the process, we believe, the forces of change in Cuba will be given new energy. And in the end, the Cuban people will benefit.