The Media's Delusion About Flights to Cuba

Monday, September 5, 2016
From The Weekly Standard:

The Media Are Very Excited About Flights Between the U.S. and Cuba

But Cubans aren't any closer to freedom.

Everybody’s pretty excited about the resumption of commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba. Well, everybody in the media, that is: The Associated Press heralds "a new era of U.S.-Cuba travel," and the New York Times tagged along for the maiden voyage, taking note of one passenger who "choked back tears" and exclaimed that "it opens Cuba to the world." There were cheers at the baggage check-in at Fort Lauderdale and cheers when the JetBlue airliner touched down near Havana.

Part of the excitement, of course, is that last week's inaugural flight was yet another element of President Obama's historic rapprochement with the Castro regime. Obama has sought to end a half-century (and more) of mutual suspicion between Havana and Washington, and The Scrapbook is bound to concede that he has half-succeeded: Official Washington is now treating official Havana like a potential lover, and the Castro dictatorship is responding with its customary hostility and opportunism.

But never mind: As Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said last week, commercial air traffic "opens the door to further exchange between the American people and the Cuban people. We think that's ultimately good for the expansion of freedom and democracy."

Here The Scrapbook must pause to throw a small bucketful of cold water on the runway. To begin with, if commercial travel between the United States and Communist tyrannies were "ultimately good for... freedom and democracy," then the Soviet Union would have collapsed several decades before it did. We've lost count of the number of daily flights available-between innumerable American cities and Beijing. Indeed, pushing the parallels deeper into the past, there were never any travel restrictions between, say, Washington and Mussolini's Rome or Hitler's Berlin. Commercial trade and tourism have various effects in relations between nations, but the evidence is thin on "the expansion of freedom and democracy."

And the fact is that, despite the official ban on U.S. travel to Cuba, it was never very difficult to make the trip. The enterprising American merely journeyed to Toronto or Kingston or Mexico City, caught the next flight to Havana​—​and asked the Cuban authorities at the airport not to stamp his passport, please. Which they were happy not to do, since impoverished, Marxist-Leninist, revolutionary Cuba was always (and remains) desperately in need of foreign currency, even in modest amounts.

That's why the argument about the devastating effects of the U.S. economic embargo has always been nonsense: Wealthy Asians and Europeans and Latin Americans have always been free to spend their money in Castro's Cuba and have done so for decades. The persistent poverty, repression, and squalor are exclusively homegrown and will hardly be alleviated by an influx of Yanqui visitors. The question now, as always, is an issue of conscience: In traveling to Cuba, and spending some dollars, do Americans see themselves helping individual Cubans​—​or contributing to the regime? It's the sort of choice, the kind of freedom, that remains unknown in Cuba.