An end to Cuba travel ban?


For 46 years, U.S. citizens have been effectively banned from travel to the largest Caribbean island, just 90 miles off our shores. If there ever was a sensible reason for this prohibition, it expired long ago.

Now there is a bill in Congress, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, that would end it. And there’s some indication that, finally, this bill may become law.

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There have been a few narrow exceptions that allow U.S. citizens to visit Cuba for educational purposes, journalism and visits to family. But it is truly extraordinary that even in the days of the Cold War, U.S. citizens could travel more easily to China or the Soviet Union than to Cuba.

There is no point in arguing whether Fidel Castro and the Cuban government deserve our tourist dollars unless we are going to expand that argument and apply it around the planet. North Korea? Myanmar? Iran? Our government doesn’t forbid us to visit these places, no matter how communist, belligerent or oppressive their governments may be.

I’ve mentioned before that I would hesitate to travel to Cuba, were it allowed. I’m no fan of Fidel Castro. But I think I should get to make that choice for myself.

Most Americans now want to get rid of not only the travel ban but the entire embargo, according to a poll conducted last month. And there’s growing bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act was introduced by Rep. William D. Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat, and its co-sponsors include Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, along with six other congressmen from both parties.

On Monday, a report will be released with recommendations from Sen. Richard G. Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba and to take other steps toward normal relations, according to the Washington Post.

Arthur Frommer, who has long supported an end to the travel ban, predicts that its demise will affect the cruise industry more than resort hotels. He believes that backpacker tourism, with visitors staying in private homes, will also take off.

Certainly there is reasonable concern in the rest of the Caribbean, and throughout the region, about economic losses. I heard it repeatedly in Costa Rica, where people involved in the tourist industry fear that dollars will bleed off to Cuba.

Still, this is no reason to restrict U.S. citizens in their freedom to travel, learn and decide for themselves.