Don't Lift the Cuba Travel Ban
By Jaime Suchlicki
There are a number of reasons the Cuba travel ban should not be lifted
at this time:
American tourists will not bring democracy to Cuba. Over the past
decades hundreds of thousands of Canadian, European and Latin American
tourists have visited the island. Cuba is not more democratic today. If
anything, Cuba is more totalitarian, with the state and its control
apparatus having been strengthened as a result of the influx of tourist
The assumption that tourism or trade will lead to economic and political
change is not borne out by empirical studies. In Eastern Europe,
communism collapsed a decade after tourism peaked. No study of Eastern
Europe or the Soviet Union claims that tourism, trade or investments had
anything to do with the end of communism. A disastrous economic system,
competition with the West, successive leadership changes with no
legitimacy, anti-Soviet feeling in Eastern Europe and the failed Soviet
war in Afghanistan were among the reasons for change.
There is no evidence to support the notion that engagement with a
totalitarian state will bring about its demise. Only academic ideologues
and those interested in economic gains cling to this notion. Their calls
for ending the embargo have little to do with democracy in Cuba or the
welfare of the Cuban people.
The repeated statement that the embargo is the cause of Cuba’s economic
problems is hollow. The reasons for the economic misery of the Cubans
are a failed political and economic system. Like the communist systems
of Eastern Europe, Cuba’s system does not function, stifles initiative
and productivity and destroys human freedom and dignity.
As occurred in the mid-1990s, an infusion of American tourist dollars
will provide the regime with a further disincentive to adopt deeper
economic reforms. Cuba’s limited economic reforms were enacted in the
early 1990s, when the island’s economic contraction was at its worst.
Once the economy began to stabilize by 1996 as a result of foreign
tourism and investments, and exile remittances, the earlier reforms were
halted or rescinded by Castro.
The assumption that the Cuban leadership would allow U.S. tourists or
businesses to subvert the revolution and influence internal developments
is at best naïve.
Money from American tourists would flow into businesses owned by the
Castro government thus strengthening state enterprises. The tourist
industry is controlled by the military and General Raul Castro, Fidel’s
American tourists will have limited contact with Cubans. Most Cuban
resorts are built in isolated areas, are off limits to the average
Cuban, and are controlled by Cuba’s efficient security apparatus. Most
Americans don’t speak Spanish, will have limited contact with ordinary
Cubans, and are not interested in visiting the island to subvert its
regime. Law 88 enacted in 1999 prohibits Cubans from receiving
publications from tourists.
While providing the Castro government with much needed dollars, the
economic impact of tourism on the Cuban population would be limited.
Dollars will trickle down to the Cuban poor in only small quantities,
while state and foreign enterprises will benefit most.
Tourist dollars would be spent on products, i.e., rum, tobacco, etc.,
produced by state enterprises, and tourists would stay in hotels owned
partially or wholly by the Cuban government. The principal airline
shuffling tourists around the island, Gaviota, is owned and operated by
the Cuban military. Carlos Lage, the czar of the Cuban economy,
reiterated that the economic objective of the Cuban government is “to
strengthen state enterprises.”
Once American tourists begin to visit Cuba, Castro would restrict travel
by Cuban-Americans. For the Castro regime, Cuban-Americans represent a
far more subversive group because of their ability to speak to friends
and relatives on the island, and to influence their views on the Castro
regime and on the United States. Indeed, the return of Cuban exiles in
1979-80 precipitated the mass exodus of Cubans from Mariel in 1980.
Lifting the travel ban without any major concession from Cuba would send
the wrong message “to the enemies of the United States”: that a foreign
leader can seize U.S. properties without compensation; allow the use of
his territory for the introduction of nuclear missiles aimed at the
United Sates; espouse terrorism and anti-U.S. causes throughout the
world; and eventually the United States will “forget and forgive,” and
reward him with tourism, investments and economic aid.
Since the Ford/Carter era, U.S. policy toward Latin America has
emphasized democracy, human rights and constitutional government. Under
President Reagan the U.S. intervened in Grenada, under President Bush,
Sr. the U.S. intervened in Panama and under President Clinton the U.S.
landed marines in Haiti, all to restore democracy to those countries.
The U.S. has prevented military coups in the region and supported the
will of the people in free elections. While the U.S. policy has not been
uniformly applied throughout the world, it is U.S. policy in the region.
Cuba is part of Latin America. A normalization of relations with a
military dictatorship in Cuba will send the wrong message to the rest of
Supporting regimes and dictators that violate human rights and abuse
their population is an ill-advised policy that rewards and encourages
A large influx of American tourists into Cuba would have a dislocating
effect on the economies of smaller Caribbean islands such as Jamaica,
the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and even Florida,
highly dependent on tourism for their well being. Careful planning must
take place, lest we create significant hardships and social problems in
Since tourism would become a two-way affair, with Cubans visiting the
United States in great numbers, it is likely that many would stay in the
United States as illegal immigrants, complicating another thorny issue
in American domestic politics.
If the travel ban is lifted unilaterally now by the U.S., what will the
U.S. government have to negotiate with a future regime in Cuba and to
encourage changes in the island? Lifting the ban could be an important
bargaining chip with a future regime willing to provide irreversible
concessions in the area of political and economic freedoms.
The travel ban and the embargo should be lifted as a result of
negotiations between the U.S. and a Cuban government willing to provide
meaningful political and economic concessions or when there is a
democratic government in place in the island.
Source: www.FrontPageMagazine.com / April 11, 2007
Courtesy: Francisco Díaz.