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Political Antipathy Clouds End of Cuba Travel Restrictions

Political Antipathy Clouds End of Cuba Travel Restrictions Homeland Security TodayWhen commercial flights between the United States and Cuba begin next fall, another stone will be laid on the path toward full normalization of relations. On the practical side, travel to Cuba will become far easier to arrange and to enjoy—and less expensive. However, after a half century hiatus, the symbolic and political dimensions of rebuilding relations with Cuba have become apparent.

In March 2016, the United States unveiled new measures to make it far easier for Americans to visit Cuba. Every American is now legally entitled to go to Cuba alone or with family and friends as long as the goal is serious engagement with the country’s people. Use of privately owned bed and breakfasts and restaurants with intercity travel on public busses can keep costs as low as $100 a day per person.

The Administration’s proposal calls for up to 110 daily flights between the US and Havana and Cuba’s nine provincial airports. Non-stop flights could originate in seventeen US cities or through hubs in Miami and Atlanta. Ten US airlines have petitioned the Federal Aviation Administration for slots, with allotments expected soon.

Rebuilding relations with Cuba is the most popular initiative of Obama’s presidency. A Pew Research Center poll in July 2016 showed support for normalization from 73 percent of Americans, including 56 percent of Republicans. Furthermore, a December 2015 poll reported approval by 56 percent of Cuban Americans. The President’s steady increase in favorable ratings has coincided with the Cuba initiative.

We should not be surprised thata ‘Hail Mary pass’ has been attempted by opponents of the initiative in the House of Representatives in an effort to sabotage this achievement under the banner of homeland security. The arguments advanced by Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and John Katko (R-NY) in hearings last month were based on their antipathy to Cuba’s regime and to president’s internationally acclaimed legacy of normalization.

During a recent House Committee on Homeland Security hearing titled, “Flying Blind: What Are the Security Risks of Resuming US Commercial Air Service to Cuba?” Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) criticized Katko for allowing political antipathy to taint discussion of the topic.

“Let’s just take the politics out of this clearly politicized issue and get to the heart of the matter,” Rice said. Direct US links to the world would be constrained if we only had air agreements with countries whose political systems and human rights records we approved. Do McCaul and Katko want to sever flights to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and Vietnam?

Cuba remained listed as a State Sponsor of Terrorism only because it served the failed attempt to isolate and economically damage a Cold War foe. The revolution Fidel Castro led against Batista explicitly opposed terrorism as a tactic. Even during the period of Cuban involvement with African liberation movements and Latin American insurgencies, terrorism was not supported by Havana.

Cuba itself suffered from terrorism when one of its civilian planes was bombed by extremist exiles living in America. Cuba even offered assistance to the United Statesas part of its immediate denunciation of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Anyone who has been in Cuba can attest to how tightly airport security personnel observe incoming and outgoing passengers. There are interminable delays caused by X-raying of checked and hand luggage. In more than thirty entries through Cuban airports, I have been stopped and questioned nearly half the time.

For two decades many flights have left Cuba daily for Europe, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean without any reported security breaches. For decades, advocates of travel restrictions and the embargo argued they would weaken Cuban support for their government with so little evidence that observers concluded their real goal was to discourage American support for policy change.

Preventing Americans from making experience-based judgments about the complicated and changing reality of Cuba was essential for holding the line. The diminishing number of supporters of the effort to isolate Cuba must fear that substantial expansion of US visitors to Cuba, coupled with the lobbying power of US airlines with a stake in the game, will bring closer the end of all travel restrictions and of our unilateral embargo. 

John McAuliff is the executive director of the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, a non-governmental organization he founded in 1985. His initial focus was on normalizing diplomatic, economic and cultural relations with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. After this was achieved under the Clinton Administration, he redirected his attention to similar goals with Cuba, a country that he has visited over 30 times in two decades.

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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