10-16-05, 9:48 am

Editor's note: The following information was distributed by the Latin America Working Group. You can urge your Senators to support a measure that would de-fund Treasury Department activities aimed at enforcing travel restrictions by

The travel ban is a failed, outdated, Cold-War era policy. The current policy succeeds only in restricting the rights of U.S. citizens and hurting the Cuban people; it responds to the interests of a small group of hardliners in the Cuban-American community. It is time to create a forward-looking U.S. policy toward Cuba based on sensible foreign policy objectives, one that benefits the United States and builds future relations with Cuba. Among the numerous reasons the travel ban should end:

A majority of American citizens want to see an end to the embargo on Cuba. Polls show that a majority of U.S. citizens support trade with and travel to Cuba, a normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, and an end to the embargo overall. Cuban Americans and non-Cuban Americans alike overwhelmingly believe the embargo has not worked. Bipartisan majorities in the House and the Senate support easing the embargo against Cuba. In 2003, the House voted 227-188 in favor of unrestricted travel and the Senate supported the measure by a vote of 59 to 36. It was the fourth consecutive year the House had voted to end the entire Cuba travel ban. Maneuvering by congressional leadership and extreme pressure from the Bush Administration has prevented embargo-easing measures such as these from becoming law, despite historic widespread congressional support. Administration pressure and PAC lobbying and money contributed to votes in 2005 in the House that contradict members’ past positions on travel to Cuba.

The travel ban hurts the Cuban people; it does not impact the Cuban government. The strategy of starving the Cuban government by restricting U.S. travel is ineffective since millions of tourists from Canada and Europe visit the island each year. The Cuban government withstood years of far greater economic hardship after the fall of the Soviet Union than that caused by the new travel restrictions, so the only ones hurt are the Cuban people.

The travel ban offends family values. The Administration tightened travel restrictions last year to limit family visits by Cuban Americans to once every three years. This rule allows no exceptions for humanitarian emergencies. The definition of 'family' was narrowed so that some Cuban Americans can no longer visit, wire money, or send packages to aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. The travel ban is now an assault against the Cuban-American family and their kin on the island.

Free travel would benefit American political and economic interests, and have a more constructive impact on Cuba itself than the current failed policy of isolation, by promoting genuine people-to-people contact.

The travel ban is a waste of U.S. government resources. Lifting the ban on travel to Cuba would allow the Treasury Department, which expends substantial resources enforcing these restrictions, to redirect its resources to its more pressing duties in the war against terror.

Travel restrictions are inconsistent with U.S. policy on citizen travel to other countries. Restrictions on travel to Cuba continue, while allowing Americans the right to travel to other communist nations, including North Korea, China, and Vietnam. With the recent end to the ban on travel to Libya, Cuba is the only country to which U.S. citizens cannot travel without special government permission.

Isolating the people of another country is an unproductive policy approach. President Reagan, for example, in the case of the Soviet Union, promoted free contact among the peoples of both countries, and sought not to punish the people of either country for disagreements between the two governments.

Cuba is not a security threat to the United States or its citizens; there is no reason to ban travel there. Several Bush Administration officials have charged that Cuba has 'a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.' But the claim is misleading and the Administration has provided no evidence for it, citing only Cuba’s advanced biotechnology sector. None of the reports by the Defense Department, CIA or other U.S. government agencies list Cuba as a threat to the U.S. or other countries. According to former President Jimmy Carter, prior to his 2002 trip to Cuba, State Department and intelligence officials who briefed him assured him that Cuba posed no terrorist threat to the U.S. In fact, just recently the Administration reinterpreted its intelligence assessment on the bio-weapons threat posed by Cuba. The new finding, made public August 30, recognizes that the 'intelligence community' and the 'policy community' do not agree. This 'split view' is the result of what it describes as 'inconclusive' evidence. Government intelligence experts 'unanimously held that it was unclear whether Cuba has an active offensive biological warfare effort now, or even had one in the past,' the new report says.

An end to travel restrictions and increased U.S. travel to Cuba would expand demand for U.S. products, and help the tourist travel and airline industries. U.S. economic output would increase by between $1.18 billion and $1.61 billion a year, if current restrictions on travel to Cuba were lifted, according to an independent study conducted in 2002 by The Brattle Group, a respected economic forecasting firm.