South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
August 25, 2007
ISSUE: Obama partially breaks ranks.
Amid a presidential campaign 27 years ago, a candidate traveled to the outskirts of Miami's Little Havana and gave a speech that presaged a stark change in U.S. policy toward Cuba. Today, another candidate wanting to inhabit the White House comes to the same place to lay out a change in how Washington should deal with Havana.
In 1980, it was Ronald Reagan, the Republican nominee. This afternoon, it will be U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who aspires to the Democratic nomination.
Reagan's speech a generation ago hinted at the tough line he would take in dealing with Fidel Castro. During its two terms in office, the Reagan administration eschewed its predecessor's engagement policy by putting Radio Marti on the air and confronting communism in Central America.
Reagan was right to deal with the Castro regime, and its allies, in a decisive manner. Rolling back the communist encroachment in the hemisphere helped pave the path for democratic governance. Plus, it helped convince the Soviet empire that its expansionistic dreams were as futile as the sustainability of its Marxist worldview and failed centrally planned economies.
Times have changed since then. The Cold War ended in 1991. While Cuba remains an anachronistic, communist outpost, illness forced Fidel Castro to turn power over to his brother, Raul, last year.
Cuba's population, particularly its young people, wants change. Modest change? Radical change? To what degree is up to the Cuban people to decide. But it's clear that change is desired.
Unfortunately, in the face of all this, the Bush administration, like its counterparts in Havana, has stubbornly turned retro.
Washington implemented counterproductive restrictions on Cuban-Americans' ability to travel and aid loved ones on the island. In Cuba, the regime cracked down on a small but promising dissident movement, sending scores of journalists, librarians and others to unjustifiable prison terms.
Cuba needs to change, but so does U.S. policy. Lamentably, the presidential candidates don't acknowledge this, either because they haven't much to offer that's bold, or because they are scared to offend hardline Cuban-American voters.
So, here comes Obama to the same hallowed hall where Reagan spoke, the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, a political equivalent of the Orange Bowl. In his speech, Obama will partially break ranks with his rivals and criticize the travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans, saying exiles and immigrants can help Cubans "become less dependent on the Castro regime," according to a published report.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board has made that very argument for years. So we couldn't agree more with Obama.
Actually, we could. Washington ought to lift the travel ban to Cuba for all of its citizens and residents.
Lifting the travel ban would permit more people to travel to Cuba, carrying dollars and ideals. The more the better because every dollar that Cubans are able to earn from their own labor is a dollar they are less dependent on the regime to provide. Few measures promote liberty more than independence from the hand of government.
Hardliners reject this notion. They say opening Cuba to general travel would promote "bikini tourism," which would put money in the Castro brothers' government coffers without boosting democracy. Better, they say, to push for the release of the jailed dissidents and for International Red Cross inspections.
That sells Americans short — far too short. Americans take their ideas with them, and state them emphatically, which is from where the "ugly American" label emerged. Yes, broader tourism would allow the government to collect more money, but giving Cubans' access to foreign sources of capital would be much more beneficial to the average citizen than to the government.
It's right to ask all Americans, and elected leaders and candidates for office, including Obama and his rivals, to press for the release of the dissidents, and for international human rights monitoring. But it's more important that Washington devises a policy that prods a transition to democracy by the bulk of Cuba's population, not simply a small group of dissidents, brave and deserving as they may be.
The ones who benefit the most from the throwback isolation policy are the Castros and their steadfast followers. They've done very well for themselves in the past half-century. U.S. policy shouldn't be doing them any favors now.
BOTTOM LINE: U.S. policy must break with the past, too. Lift the travel ban.