U.S. Should Not Allow Castro to Extort American Citizens

Thursday, April 21, 2016
By Manuel Ballagas in Sun Sentinel:

Cuba treats its exiles unfairly, and US does nothing about it

The story of my life is about two passports.

I left Cuba more than 30 years ago, and I have never gone back. I find it impossible to return to a place from which my wife, my son and I were literally thrown by a mob that pushed us, spat on us, and kept hitting us until we were on a boat for Key West, all the time screaming, "Scum!"

Call it trauma, but there are still other reasons for not going back.

Even if I wanted, I would not be able to get on a flight to Havana without first applying for a Cuban passport, at a cost of $400, and then, curiously enough, applying for a Cuban entry visa, at a cost of $200. It is also mandatory that the passport be "renewed" every two years, at a cost of $150. Why should I do all that having been a U.S. citizen for 25 years?

My American passport has allowed me to travel in Europe, Canada and Latin America. It is my best form of ID, except the Castro government refuses to accept I am no longer its citizen and demands I buy its passport, even if I renounced my former nationality long ago, and the Cuban Constitution states that Cuban citizenship is relinquished once you become a citizen of another country.

With the recent decision by Carnival Cruise Lines not to allow Cuban-Americans on their trips to the island, the public has been introduced to just one of the enigmas of Cuba travel. Some are now crying discrimination. Their frustration is understandable, but it surprises me it has taken all this time to realize the Cuban government is getting away with discriminatory practices on American soil — and with the acquiescence of privately owned companies, too.

This has been happening since the Cuban government authorized exiles to travel to Cuba in the late '70s. And not only to Cuban-Americans. Any Cuban who has acquired another nationality in the world suffers this treatment if he wishes to buy a plane ticket to the island. Yet even in this age of "engagement" with the Castros, no nation or government has bothered to address this issue.

Which brings me to the story of my life. The story of two passports. One, I gladly acquired in 1992, when I became an American. The other is one I don't want, being as it is a sad reminder of my former life as a slave in a country I fled. Our government should take notice of this, and not allow its citizens of Cuban origin to be extorted into betraying their naturalization oath by accepting a foreign passport, whether they travel to the island by sea or air.