Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Our right to travel to Cuba

I'm a strong believer that traveling is a basic human right -- that is, that people have the right to go wherever they want, for whatever reason they please, subject only to the equal rights of others, such as respect for private property. In practical terms, that means I oppose the U.S. government's oppressive restrictions on travel to (and trade with) such places as Cuba. Whatever political points government officials want to make, they should frame up in a press release and leave private citizens alone to see the world for themselves.

So I applaud the civil disobedience of the Venceremos Brigade, a group of unrepentant commies who make their own political points by risking fines and prosecution through unlicensed travel to that forbidden destination just 93 miles off the coast of Florida -- in fact, the group just returned from its latest trip.

Of course, it should be noted that Cuba imposes a few travel restrictions of its own. According to Human Rights Watch:

The Cuban government forbids the country’s citizens from leaving or returning to Cuba without first obtaining official permission, which is often denied. Unauthorized travel can result in criminal prosecution. ...

The government also frequently bars citizens engaged in authorized travel from taking their children with them overseas, essentially holding the children hostage to guarantee the parents’ return. Given the widespread fear of forced family separation, these travel restrictions provide the Cuban government with a powerful tool for punishing defectors and silencing critics.

As much as I believe that travel is a right that doesn't need to be justified on a costs/benefits basis, this raises a very pragmatic reason for opposing U.S. travel restrictions. The Venceremos Brigade is able to make political hay of its trips to Cuba only because American officials make such travel a courageous act in the face of government repression. As Human Rights Watch put it in the organization's latest assessment:

For more than four decades, the US government has used Cuba’s dismal rights record to justify a sweeping economic embargo aimed at toppling the Castro regime. Yet the policy did nothing to bring change to Cuba. On the contrary, it helped consolidate Castro’s hold on power by providing his government with an excuse for its problems and a justification for its abuses. Moreover, because the policy was imposed in such a heavy-handed fashion, it enabled Castro to garner sympathy abroad, neutralizing international pressure rather than increasing it.

Leave it to the U.S. government to take such a ham-handed stance against a regime that restricts private enterprise, imprisons dissenters, forbids emigration, bans opposition and holds no elections that it comes out looking like the bad guy.

So kudos to the Venceremos Brigade for traveling where its members please, even if those travelers would probably impose tighter strictures on the rest of us if they ever gained political power.

And isn't it time for the U.S. government to recognize our right to travel -- and to take an issue away from the starry-eyed would-be-commissars by doing so?

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Anonymous Vadim said...

The best way to end the trade embargo is to go after its corporate sponsors. Do you know that Bacardi was (and continues to be) one of the main supporters of the embargo? They even drafted legislation to extend it in 1996.

Please let everyone know about this boycott:

If the US doesn’t lift the embargo themselves we need to hold the corporations that fund it accountable!

July 23, 2008 11:48 AM  

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