The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has just issued a paper advocating for the unconditional legalization of U.S.-tourism travel to Cuba. It is entitled, "Welcome to Havana: The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act."
This paper repeats various commonly-heard arguments and assertions, which were brilliantly rebutted by an anonymous reader (Fernando) in the comment section of COHA's website.
We've summarized each argument (or assertion) followed by (Fernando's) rebuttal below:
I examine below some of the points raised by your article:
1. Polls show Americans support ending the embargo.
Polls can be constructed to get any answer you want. You ask "Americans are forbidden to travel to Cuba. Do you think Americans should have the freedom to travel to Cuba?" Answer: YES. Ask "Cuba is a repressive dictatorship with hundreds of prisoners of conscience. Do you think tourism should be allowed before prisoners are released?" Answer: NO.
What matters is not polls but how people vote and contribute to campaigns, more of which below.
2. This change in opinion reflects a generational shift.
The article assumes the changes in the polls speak of a generational shift as opposed to say a different set of questions, framing, or sample. Yet it provides no evidence for this. Is this just a post hoc reading of the tea leaves?
3. US policy towards Cuba is "draconic".
Interesting when the US is Cuba's major trade partner on foodstuffs, medicine, remittances, etc…
What the article fails to mention is the Cuban dictatorship's "draconic" policy towards its own citizens. Most Cubans are not allowed to travel anywhere. In any case, most could not afford to thanks to a misguided centralized economy that has keeps them in poverty.
In addition, ordinary Cubans lack freedom of enterprise – unless you are a corrupt Cuban general - no freedom of association, no independent trade unions, and no freedom of speech. All of this a stones throw from Florida.
I would therefore suggest changing the title of the bill to "Welcome to Havana: The last surviving plantation economy in the Caribbean."
4. Continued failure of "progressive" amendments in Congress due to Bush.
Perhaps this reflects better than the polls the true will of the American people. Americans want a free and democratic Cuba, and release of political prisoners.
And they have put their money where their mouth is by making thousands of small contributions at the individual citizen level to various political organizations.
By contrast, opponents of the embargo have to rely on the largess of such representative institutions as Orbitz, Cargill, etc…
Clearly Orbitz's lobbying is not disinterested. Cuban authorities will likely hand them the monopoly of travel to the Island. And like all monopolies Orbitz and its partners will restrict supply and raise prices.
So here is another proposed title for the bill: "Welcome to Havana: You just got ripped off."
5. Travel to Cuba will bring economic benefits to the US.
The article does not distinguish between trade creation and trade diversion. How many of the new jobs mentioned, and how much of the new revenue, will be at the expense of other US destinations like Puerto Rico and Florida?
I would say almost 100%. The reason is that travel to the island will not be reciprocated by travel from the island to the US by Cubans. Most Cubans are not allowed to travel and, in any case, are too poor to do so (as a result of bad economic policy, as argued above).
Yes, some money will flow back to the US to buy stuff to feed and house US tourists in Cuba, but this is money that would otherwise have been spent housing and feeding them in Florida or Puerto Rico. The only difference is that the Cuban regime, and in particular Raul's armed forces, will keep a substantial cut of this dollar round tripping.
What will the Cuban government do with the extra revenue? For all we know this money will flow to Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia in exchange for oil supplies. Because such transactions seldom take place in open exchanges the money will most likely help finance political movements that have repeatedly repudiated the property rights of American companies.
So here is another title for the bill: "Welcome to Havana: Now shoot yourself in the foot."
5. American tourism will bring change to the island.
This is an embarrassing instance of American exceptionalism. European and Canadian tourists, that have been traveling there for decades, are clearly not up to the task.
But one need not even question such exceptionalism. Fact is the Cuban authorities will deny visas to Americans openly critical of the regime, i.e. the very same tourists who's exceptionalism might succeed where Canadians and European failed. Their message to Cuban Americans? Shut up or stay out.
So here is yet another title for the bill: "Welcome to self censorship: If you want to travel to Cuba."
6. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch support the measure.
I don't know about this but I do know they, like President Obama, also support the unconditional release of all political prisoners.
Yet what these NGOs think is perhaps less relevant than what the brave mothers and families of the political prisoners, the Damas de Blanco, think.
So ask them if the favor a policy that says "tourism in exchange for release of your loved ones", versus "tourism in exchange for nothing".
So final title for the bill "Welcome to Havana: And let the dissidents rot in jail."
6. BTW how does your article sit with this quote from the About page in your own website:
"COHA was opposed to the adherence of the U.S. to NAFTA under the thesis that it shouldn't have been initiated until basic Mexican institutions were truly democratic, its trade unions free enough to negotiate as equals, and the government purged of endemic corruption."
I wonder who is being ideological.
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