Pandering of the highest sort was on display last Friday, as President Bush announced that his Administration will “target” Americans who visit Cuba in violation of US laws. In addition to making it much more difficult to visit the country, Bush has instructed the Department of Homeland Security to step up its inspections of travelers and shipments between Cuba and the US. (This is at a time when the department can’t even effectively handle security at US ports.)
Bush’s policy has nothing to do with our security, or with democratic reforms in Cuba or with common sense. It is designed to win Cuban-American votes and money in the key electoral states of Florida and New Jersey; it is another piece in the “Bashcroft” assault on Americans’ civil liberties. It also reveals the power that a handful of unrepresentative reactionary oligarchs in Miami have to restrict the movements of other American citizens.
As Cuba expert Peter Kornbluh told me, “I see this latest Administration act as a sign of its weakness on Cuba, its inability to do much substantive to mollify the hardline crowd in Miami which has been screaming about the fact that intercepted refugees are being repatriated and the Administration is not encouraging hijackers from Cuba, indeed is sending them back…This Administration doesn’t want another Mariel boatlift, so it can’t ease up on the illegal migration issue. It has little latitude to say it is toughening its stance except to cut back on travel. For domestic political reasons, of course, the White House is curtailing the one thing the US can do to help Cuba evolve–people-to-people contact.”
The travel ban is just the latest example of how the decades-old embargo is a failed, hypocritical, inconsistent and self-defeating policy–demeaning to the American people, damaging to the rule of law, harmful to the interests of the Cuban polity, and beneath the dignity of a great country. Who really believes–even those like myself who protested the recent political arrests in Cuba and are concerned about the fate of dissent there–that restricting US citizens from traveling freely to Cuba (when they are free to travel to such nations as North Korea and Iran–both “axis of evil” countries) will produce democratic change in that country? What happened to encouraging the free flow of people, ideas and commerce?