How Obama Could Easily Help Cuba's "Self-Employed"

Thursday, July 24, 2014
Last week, the Sun-Sentinel ran an article about efforts in Congress to clamp down on the abuses of "people-to-people" travel, which have become little more than Castro-hosted boondoggles to Cuba.

It's increasingly hard to argue (with a straight-face) that trips led by Castro regime officials (see The Nation's recent tour) or yacht cruises (despite Cubans being prohibited from boarding vessels) help "promote independence from the Cuban authorities," as President Obama stated was the purpose of these trips.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this article was that even anti-sanctions lobbyists agree that these "people-to-people" trips have become Castro-hosted boondoggles.

Of course, their solution would be to exacerbate the problem by allowing unfettered tourism to Cuba, whereby Americans would join the ranks of the millions of Canadians and Europeans that travel to the Cuban military's all-inclusive, isolated beach resorts -- even farther from the Cuban people.

This will eventually earn Americans the same disdain that the Cuban people hold for Canadian and European tourists, who travel to Cuba for cheap resorts, rum, cigars and sex.

Funny, every traveler always points out how the Cuban people love Americans. How could that be? What about sanctions, hostility etc.? The answer is simple: Because the U.S. is the one country that has always opposed the dictatorship. Moreover, because its travelers don't (usually) go to exploit their repression.

Regardless, tourism travel to Cuba would require an Act of Congress. And that's not going to happen until there's genuine democratic reform in Cuba.

As a reminder, a provision in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (§910(b) of P.L. 106-387, Title IX) codified the ban on tourist activities in Cuba, which are defined as any activity not expressly authorized in the 12 categories of travel set forth in the regulations. It further specified, "as such regulations were in effect on June 1, 2000."

In other words, if the license and category of travel didn't exist on June 1, 2000, then it's considered tourism and strictly prohibited. Only Congress can create new travel categories or lift the sanction.

Congress is much more likely to get rid of "people-to-people" travel altogether -- due to the rampant abuses -- than to lift the ban on tourism.

So let's join forces in simply adjusting "people-to-people" travel to make it consistent with the President's stated policy goals.

It's a proposal we made earlier this year -- a "middle-ground approach."

It's an approach that would: 1. help Cuba's "self-employment" sector; 2. not violate U.S. law; 3. not entail any new stream of capital entering the island; and 4. deny funds to Castro's monopolies.

It's a win-win all around.

It stems from a floor speech by U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who made the important point:

"On the economic front, I think it's important to make the point that when people argue for trade and travel with Cuba, they are arguing to do so with Castro's monopolies. Let’s be clear, regular Cubans are prohibited from engaging in foreign trade and commerce. So we want to trade with Castro's monopolies? Do we? Do we want to reward the regime?

The U.S. government’s own report of agricultural sales to Cuba states how every single transaction with Cuba, by hundreds of American agricultural companies, have only had one counter-part: Castro's food monopoly, through a company named Alimport that hasn't helped the people one bit. So do we really want to unleash billions to Castro's monopolies?

Also, every single foreign 'people-to-people' traveler currently stays at a hotel or resort owned by the Cuban military (GAESA). No exceptions!

So, M. President, how does that promote the 'independence of the Cuban people from the regime?' as President Obama's policy statement upon releasing these regulations states?

At the very least, they should be compelled to stay at a 'casa particular' – a private home – but staying at the military's facilities contravenes the President's own policy statement. This hardly constitutes an economic opening for the people of Cuba."

There you have it.

We propose a simple requirement whereby all U.S. "people-to-people" travelers to Cuba -- better yet, every category of U.S. travelers to Cuba -- must stay exclusively at "casa particulares" and dine only at "paladares."

No more stays at the Castro regime's fancy Hotel Nacional and Hotel Saratoga, or parties at La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita and Tropicana.

And if the "casa particular" or "paladar" is a front for the Cuban military -- it's also a no-go.

It's an easy, direct and non-controversial way to help Cuba's "self-employed."