20 Years Later: Cuba Travel History Repeats Itself

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
In December 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed -- ending the massive subsidies ($6 billion per year) that had propped up the Castro dictatorship since its inception.

The next year, the U.S. adopted a ''two-track'' approach pursuant to the 1992 Cuba Democracy Act. While this law closed important loopholes in U.S. commercial sanctions, it simultaneously eased U.S. travel regulations to encourage "purposeful" contact with the Cuban people, a term once again at the forefront of the policy debate.

President George H.W. Bush authorized a slew of new "purposeful" travel categories, including educational activities, religious activities, activities of non-profit organizations and activities for the importation or exportation of informational materials.

(We can generally agree upon these, so long as they are not rife with loopholes, as they quickly became).

Thereafter, these categories were continued and expanded by President Bill Clinton until they were codified (frozen by Congress) into law in 2000 -- along with a ban on tourism travel.

Thus, the U.S.'s response to the end of the Castro regime's first major historic subsidy -- the Soviet Union -- was to ease travel sanctions.

Fidel Castro stood that U.S. goodwill gesture on its head -- along with a new windfall of Canadian and European travelers -- by creating hard currency enclaves and using the increased flow of dollars to finance his security apparatus and anti-American efforts abroad -- specifically Hugo Chavez's rise to power in Venezuela.

Today, with the imminent demise of Hugo Chavez, the Castro dictatorship's second major historic subsidy ($10 billion per year) is in peril.

And once again, the U.S.'s "purposeful" travel policy is coming to the rescue -- this time, courtesy of President Barack Obama.

According to the Cuban regime's Office of National Statistics and Information (ONEI) -- published by Cafe Fuerte -- between 2006 and 2011, the number of yearly U.S. travelers* to Cuba has increased by 250,000.

*Most of these are travelers taking multiple trips per year pursuant to a policy that eliminated yearly caps.

Meanwhile, during the same period of time -- mostly due to the economic crisis in Europe -- the number of yearly European travelers to Cuba has decreased by nearly 200,000.

Thus, U.S. travelers are now supplanting the deficit left by European travelers.

Following his brother's footsteps, Raul Castro is once again re-shuffling Cuba's totalitarian economy -- not to make substantial and irreversible political and economic reforms -- but to absorb every last penny of incoming hard currency.

And repression?

Remains unchecked -- through the roof -- thanks for asking.