In 2011, the U.S. Government loosened the restrictions on travel to Cuba, allowing more “people-to-people” visits for religious, medical and professional research reasons. The new rules added to the nearly 400,000 U.S. citizens who visit Cuba legally each year, most of them under the family visitation rules which allow Cuban-Americans with relatives still in Cuba to return there annually.
The people-to-people program is basically dead in the water. After approving dozens of licenses for companies last year, those companies have not had their licenses renewed this year because of complaints that the program was being abused by people who were essentially going to Cuba for tourism and nothing else. The government insists that the tightened regulations were aimed at eliminating the alleged abuses of the program.
But the result is that licenses haven’t been renewed and dozens of trips have been cancelled. Instead of a relatively simple 10-page form, the companies which want to conduct these tours must now fill out a form that can reach up to 100 pages. Instead of a rough outline of the activities planned inside Cuba, the form requires a virtual hour-by-hour itinerary of the trip, and a post-trip submission from the tour’s participants about their contacts with ordinary Cubans.
We are certain there have been real abuses of the program. It was not originally conceived as a vehicle for fun in the sun, or dancing the night away in Havana. The program was designed to put Americans in touch with the Cuban people in meaningful ways. Any effort to control the abuses should be applauded, but not at the expense of making it more difficult for the legitimate trips to be taken too.
How many times can we say this: the way to speed change in Cuba is to eliminate all travel restrictions, and ultimately the trade embargo. Those changes would not only undermine the entire story line about America as the cause of all Cuba’s problems, but the Cuban people would be the biggest beneficiaries. They are the ones who have suffered the most during the last 50 years, and frankly, we think that should be the main goal of any U.S. policy—alleviate their suffering.
We understand that for Cuban-Americans the idea of opening up their homeland to access by all Americans is not an easy subject. They abhor the Castro regime and are adamant that any inflow of Americans, and American dollars, only keeps that regime in power. But the policy of isolation has now been in place for more than 50 years. It hasn’t worked. Isn’t it time to try something else? The United States does an extraordinary amount of business with former enemies, and it is easy to argue that America’s most potent weapon is our economic might. But we deny that option in Cuba, and instead, keep in place a policy that was forged in the Cold War of the last century. We won that war. Let’s end this one too.