Last week, the Freedom to Travel Campaign traveled to Cuba for a research trip on issues relating to the forthcoming report by the Bush Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.
In 2004, President Bush imposed travel restrictions and other measures designed to encourage regime change in Cuba with the first report of the Commission. These measures have boomeranged on the administration. The Cuban government has distributed booklets summarizing the report as a propaganda tool against the United States government. The travel restrictions have divided and harmed families. And the Cuban government has, actively and aggressively, deepened and fostered new diplomatic and economic relationships with Venezuela, China, and others that have strengthened the Cuban government and brought more money into the Cuban economy.
We saw more evidence of that in our recent trip. We attended a public event featuring Presidents Castro, Chavez (of Venezuela), and Morales (of Bolivia) that followed their signing of a trade agreement aimed at countering U.S. economic influence in the region. The Cuban government is continuing to purchase replacement equipment for its electrical grid, and is working to replace older appliances in Cuban kitchens with energy saving improvements.
The prospect of another round of U.S. sanctions seems to hardly concern either the Cuban government or the Cuban people. While the administration engages in the business as usual strategy of strengthening the embargo, the U.S. seems more isolated from the actions and passions of the region than ever before. What the administration is clearly doing is restricting the freedoms of Americans – Cuban-Americans, Americans with the curiosity to see Cuba, religious people, and business people – isolating us, while encouraging Cuba to replace what we can offer, leaving us without influence over the events in Cuba today or in the future.